Zambia Daily Mail, December 06, 2010

The Consumer Unity & Trust Society (CUTS) has urged Government to investigate the likely existence of a cartel by commercial banks that are failing to reduce the high interest rates.

Speaking at a media briefing in Lusaka, CUTS International Lusaka Chairman Love Mtesa said consumers are concerned with the apparent insensitivity of banks to appeals made by Government ministers and the central bank governor to lower the lending rates, which do not even correlate to the interest rates charged on deposits.

“We also feel, as consumers, that commercial banks should review the charges they levy customers for every withdrawal they make.”

“We suggest banks allow at least two or three free withdrawals for each account holder per month” he said.

But Bankers Association of Zambia chief executive officer David Chewe says as an association, banks do not sit to agree on what levels interest rates should be reduced to but individually look at their internal costs based on the bank structure to determine interest rates.

“What is important is for CUTS to look at what levels interest rates are reducing and what is driving that. Collusion is a crime and if they feel a cartel exists CCPC should come in and punish the culprits” he said.

Mr. Chewe said the banks have different products and services relating to different customers and some banks are now offering free withdrawals to customers while interest rates have reduced.

However Mr. Mtesa said CUTS as a non-governmental organization working on competition and consumer protection issues has noted the lack of awareness and understanding among ordinary Zambians of how a healthy competitive regime can benefit consumers.

He said the advent of economic liberalisation and enhanced economic activities have resulted in firms acquiring more market power by unfair means such as cartels and mergers.

He said this has affected efforts by developing countries to benefit from trade liberalization processes.

Mr. Mtesa commended Government for passing a comprehensive law on competition and consumer protection and was glad to join celebrating the World Competition day that fell on December 5.

Meanwhile CUTS is concerned that some super markets are selling imported vegetables when these can be sourced locally.

Speaking at the same function CCPC director for consumer and public relations Brian Lingela said Government has enacted the new Competition and Consumer Protection Act that empowers the commission to deal with cartels.

Mr. Lingela said when dealing with cartels, it is important that CCPC investigates the matter as cartels are complex and probes need to produce evidence.

He said CCPC is aware of complaints on high interest rates and high bank charges adding it is in discussion with stakeholders such as the Bankers Association of Zambia.