If all regulatory bodies in this country kept their industries in constant check as the National Communications Authority (NCA) seemingly do with the Telecommunication companies, our lives as consumers would be a super one.
It is worrying that the issue of our markets being flooded with fake and sub-standard goods and sometimes poor services continue to rage on. There doesn’t seem to be any help in sight from the respective regulators. We know that the ramifications for consuming sub-standard products, particularly when it comes to drugs, foods and drinks could have devastating effects on human lives.
Sometimes we get to hear or see a regulator bearing their teeth and sounding some words of caution to consumers on a particular product or service on the market. However, after a day or two, the issue dies down and everyone forgets about it. The “culprits” who are consistently flooding our market with sub-standard goods and providing us with poor services, are doing so with impunity because they know they can get away with their misdeeds.
If we had the kind of active, strict and committed regulatory authorities who will bite when they bark, one would not worry much going into the chemist, for example, and be in two minds as to whether the drug they are buying would get their illness better or worsened because of fake and expired drugs that keep surfacing on this market.
If all things were equal, consumers could go to sleep believing that all the necessary checks and or enforcements would have been done by the appropriate regulator even before the drug reaches the outlet for dispensing. That is why I will always be full of admiration for the NCA for their swift reactions to consumer complaints and also through their own monitoring mechanisms.
The recent smack in August by NCA on MTN’s hands, Ghana’s largest mobile phone operator, following massive complaints by users was an act in the right direction. What necessitated NCA’s actions, we were told, were the frustrations of the subscribers of MTN who were not able to make calls, top up credit or use data bundles.
Using the social media, frustrated customers took to the company’s Facebook page to vent their anger on the network for not living up to expectation. The antecedent of the Arab Spring, the Tunisian uprising started with text messages and conversations on social media comes to mind.
The anger of MTN’s consumers got the regulator to move in with heavy sanctions against the service provider. This included a directive to compensate subscribers and in addition, a more than GHC 1m fine for inaccurately reporting international traffic figures. The NCA is reported to have also blocked moves by MTN to acquire an additional 13 million lines.
The penalties meted out to MTN were not the first time a mobile phone operator was made to face the consequences of their actions or inactions by the regulator. In May, five mobile telecommunication operators, apart from Vodafone, were slapped with fines totaling GHC 900,000 for providing poor services to their consumers.
So, if regulators wield that much power to speak for and on behalf of the consumer, then why has the Ghanaian consumer been left orphaned through the inertia of some regulators? The consumer has been exposed and continues to be exposed to avoidable health risks through the consumption of sub-standard products that find their way to our markets.
On one of our radio stations last week, one of the regulators was telling us that the cold drink popularly called “Burkina” sold mostly at traffic intersections are unhealthy considering the conditions under which they are prepared. Since then, one has seen “Burkina” drinks still being sold in traffic and consumers still patronizing them as if they are the health saver ever to be discovered.
Generally, from the kind of products that one sometimes sees around, one gets the picture that those producers or importers who bring the goods in are not really bothered by consumer health or safety. Theirs is to make money by whatever means. Otherwise, why would an importer bring into the Ghanaian market, goods that have their inscriptions in other languages (not English), or products that do not have expiry dates? That is where the regulators are failing the consumer. If consumer health is of importance, how do we get to the ideal situation where nobody can just produce or import anything into this country?
Just as some public awards and recognition systems have helped shape excellence and quality in certain industries, perhaps the time is overdue for an award system that would recognize regulators who seek to protect the interest of the consumer. As individuals, we do not have the capacity to fight the irregularities that keep popping up.
However, as bodies with the whip in hand, our regulators could help us clean up the system and bring in some sanity. By so doing, they would also help keep in check those who are taking advantage of the consumer with sub-standard products and services.
For now, one can say that NCA is certainly on its feet and sending the signals that the consumer also has rights that need to be respected and that mobile telecommunication companies should respect those rights. It is that straight forward.