Raising awareness the first major challenge for NGOs
CAIRO: More than 60 consumer protection NGOs will begin implementation of the country s first consumer protection law today.
Ratified in May, the law requires businesses to accept returns and exchanges within 14 days as long as a receipt is presented, and stipulates fines from LE 5,000 to LE 100,000 for violations ranging from refusal to return goods to the intentional sale of faulty goods.
But while most NGOs say they are satisfied with the new legislation, some critics argue the law does not go far enough to address consumer concerns, while others fear the law will fall victim to negligence, much in the same way traffic and building codes have.
Sami Abdel Latif, board member of the Central Egyptian Society for Consumer Protection, says he is satisfied with the law as a first step. It stands out, he says, as the first of its kind since the 1952 Revolution.
Historically, there has never been a need for consumer protection because the state controlled production and distribution of most goods, he says. Consumers could only resort to the ministries of supply and trade and a few NGOs if they wanted to complain. Now there s a law and consumers are empowered to take their cases to court if need be.
Still, Abdel Latif admits most NGOs are still unclear about the exact procedures to be followed incase of violations. The law s executive regulations are not due for release until November. For now, he says his organization will concentrate on tackling one of the biggest obstacles facing implementation: raising consumer awareness.
The most important issue right now is informing the average citizen of his rights, says Abdel Latif. It is very similar to the New Tax Law media campaign, except we lack the financing to put on something on that scale. But that s the reason it was successful, and that s exactly what we need.
The new Consumer Protection Law calls for the establishment of an independent 15-member committee under the oversight of the Ministry of Trade and Industry. The committee will bring together NGO and business community representatives in order to address the needs of both. The law also increased its fine range, previously LE 15,000 to LE 50,000.
Despite the amendments, Economist Magdi Sobhy of the Al Ahram Center for Political and Strategic Studies says the law s potential for success depends on the government s motivation to implement it. With the influence of the business community on the government, he says the law stands little chance for success.
We don t have a tradition of protecting consumer rights, says Sobhy. I m still not convinced it will make a difference . At the same time that we see the government controlling everything on the political front; it s hard to see that it will not have a large influence on the economic front. So it really depends on the government s will, which does not stand to benefit from the law.
Abdel Latif agrees the law has been politicized, but, unlike Sobhy, he says the fact should work in favor of the consumer because the government has a vested interest in keeping the consumer happy.
I m optimistic but it will take time, says Abdel Latif. People are demanding protection more than ever before, which is introducing a very important political element into the issue.
Still, Sobhy says despite upping the maximum fine, the law continues to call for relatively light punishment to large businessmen. The ramification of this, he says, might be seen in the possibility of exclusive implementation on small businesses.
Soad El Deeb, president of the Media Council for Development and Consumer Protection, says she is convinced the law is a step in the right direction and can only be judged based on the participation of consumers.
I think it s relatively balanced, says El Deeb. Implementation will show how it effective it turns out to be. But we need consumers to speak out and demand their rights. Otherwise, we cannot blame the law for failing.