Influential leaders from government, business, and civil society convene in Nairobi for the Consumers International Global Congress 2023, a quadrennial event focusing on policies, best practices, and accountability necessary for global consumer protection. With the theme ‘Building a resilient future for consumers,’ the conference delves into digital futures, fair finance, sustainable consumption, and fortifying global consumer protection.
Shaka Kariuki, Chairman of the Competition Authority of Kenya (CAK) spoke to Samuel Sanya at the sidelines of the congress, below are excerpts of the conversation;
Q: Mr. Kariuki, in your view, what’s the impact of information asymmetry on consumers, and what steps are being taken to address this through consumer education?
A: To me, consumer education is a challenge, globally. So, there is need for education from the top and all the way to the bottom of the pyramid. Like the Deputy President (Rigathi Gachagua) said, the consumer needs to be informed and made aware of their rights. That’s a journey that needs to be progressed – on this, the CAK is doing a good job. We are not perfect, but we are headed in the right direction.
Q: On the issue of investigative capacity. When you compare consumer bodies in East Africa (Uganda, Kenya and Tanzania) and Europe – places like Germany, where investigations have led to product recalls, in most cases vehicles. Could you say we lack requisite capacity?
A: Not necessarily, those product recalls in Europe are because the manufacturers are locally domiciled there. We are not manufacturing those cars so we cannot recall them. But we have investigated local products such as local juices and edible oils – we can ensure that the correct information is being put out on the labels. We can investigate the amount of cholesterol and so on.
Q. How closely are consumer bodies in East Africa like the CAK, collaborating with larger ones in Hongkong and Europe, especially on exchange of information?
A. We actually do a lot of collaboration. As you mentioned, there is someone here from Hong Kong and from the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) in the US. We also work closely with the Competition and Markets Authority of the UK. Across the globe, we are in constant communication with our sister organizations and this helps us with transfer of knowledge be it from there to here and here to there and to other areas as well to ensure that we have best practice in what we implement as consumer law.
Q: Considering current trends in consumer education and protection and from a regulatory standpoint; what do you hope to see in five years time?
A: I am very passionate about education and I would hope that every consumer is aware of their rights. In five years, my aspiration is for consumers to be aware of their rights, and that there is an entity where they can go to have those rights addressed.
Regardless of whether one is a supplier, or a buyer – even if they don’t have enough buying power – their rights should be protected. Even for the ordinary citizen at the bottom of the pyramid; if they are dealing with a big bank – they can come to CAK and the authority will address their concerns. I would like to see a 100% aggrievance addressal rate in five years.