AS more Tanzanians increasingly turn to the internet to buy products and services, the existing consumer protection laws must be revisited to make e-commerce rational.
According to the Fair Competition Commission (FCC), jurisdictional challenges limiting a nation’s ability to protect consumers will be addressed through cooperation, communication, and bi-and multi-lateral agreements between stakeholders.
The FCC encourages governments and leading private sector industries to work together to update existing consumer protection laws.
It also helps implement new regulations that aim to achieve transparent and fair protection for consumers in relation to advertising, marketing, contract terms and payments.
FCC Chairman, Prof Humphrey Moshi, said consumers must have access to appropriate information to make it possible for them to become familiar with the advantages as well as disadvantages of entering into a particular transaction.
Such information must be relevant, accurate, comprehensive and accessible.
“We have observed that most consumers are ignorant about buying services and products online; thus coordinated approaches are needed to ensure that awareness campaigns reach them,” he noted.
Speaking at the sidelines of a stakeholders meeting in Dar es Salaam on Friday organised as part of World Competition Day commemorations, he said plans were underway to strengthen consumer councils for them to be able to address any challenges encompassing the online business.
Presenting his insights on consumer protection, especially on online transactions, Tanzania Communication Regulatory Authority Head of Enforcement and Compliance section, Dr Philip Filikunjombe, said it was crucial to take a closer look at consumer protection online as most people are still ignorant on the area.
He said the existing Electronic transactions Act of 2015 did not address a number of issues, including rights and obligation of parties.
“For instance, once the consumer buys electricity through mobile money and fails to receive the token while the money has already been deducted, who is obliged to answer to that scenario, is it the mobile operator, Bank of Tanzania or Tanesco?” he queried.
Dr Filikunjombe noted that in such scenarios, the consumer is in big part unknowledgeable, the laws should harmonize that and all parties should collaborate.
“National authorities responsible for the enforcement of consumer protection laws across Tanzania should join hands with other stakeholders in e-commerce to develop a model for effective e-consumer protection; TCRA cannot do it alone; the online environment is challenging and therefore calls for new ways to handle matters,” he explained.
Explaining further, he said consumers in the E-market have the same requirements and needs as traditional consumers.
However, on the other side, they have more vulnerability, because for example, they cannot examine the product prior to purchasing it and they may not know whom they are buying from.
He pointed out that considering such a scenario, it was clear enough that the necessity for ‘trust’ is even greater in e-commerce than in traditional trade.
“The trust created by businesses is still quite poor in e-commerce, and in many jurisdictions, consumer protection laws continue to be weak,” he remarked.
Dr Filikunjombe asserted that consumers must be able to contract on fair terms as a consumer typically never enters into any negotiation of the terms of the contract, and instead, it is the business that dictates the terms of the contract; it is crucial that the law ensures reasonable balance in the terms of consumer contracts.