In light of the recent elections, the Consumer Unity and Trust Society (CUTS) International has outlined five pressing issues facing the Zambian consumer today. These issues have been informed by perception surveys conducted both internally and by other key institutions over the years and are as follows: tackling high inflation, improving the accessibility and affordability of mobile phone and internet services, ensuring that prices of fuel, electricity and alternative energy sources are affordable, improving the comfort and affordability of public transport, and access and affordability to high quality healthcare.
Poor consumers, who remain the most disadvantaged in Zambia, are in most cases often left at the mercy of product and service providers. They are too often priced out of the market of most goods and services. It is therefore important that in-order to protect the interests of consumers, the newly elected leadership adopt a comprehensive strategy that not only tries to police the situation, but also equally sets a strong economic and social foundation that has the capacity to accommodate the growing middleclass and those below this strata.
Firstly, between 2009 and 2011 the inflation rate was consistently under 10%. According to the Central Statistics Office, as at June 2016, the official inflation rate had gone up to 21.3%. Furthermore, a study by CUTS in March 2016 also revealed the sharp increase in the price of mealie-meal had resulted in 42% of Zambians failing to afford the commodity while 83% considered the cost to be too high. CUTS is calling for government to retain a focus on low and stable inflation rates.
Secondly, the reliability, quality and affordability of mobile and internet services is questionable. Studies have consistently shown higher prices for mobile phone and internet services in Zambia than in most Sub-Saharan countries. A 2016 survey by CUTS revealed that 57% of local households feel mobile phone services are too costly and 54% of respondents to the survey indicated that the price of mobile phone services had increased in the last six months. CUTS calls on the leadership to revoke SI 111 that prohibits the entry of another mobile operator in the sector.
Thirdly, Zambia’s petroleum costs have historically been higher than the Sub-Saharan Africa average. Zambia made efforts to reduce the cost of petroleum products by an average 4 to 5% in 2015 but CUTS calls for the government to ensure that prices of petroleum products on the local market move in tandem with prices on the international market. With regard to electricity, 2016 experienced a surge in electricity blackouts and consumers were given inaccurate information on the load shading being implemented. CUTS calls for the government to not only increase investment in the electricity sector especially with regard to generation but also ensure that it is accessible to all, particularly those in rural areas.
Fourthly, in the transport sector, some of the concerns that have been raised by passengers in the recent past include the high bus fares, low quality and also the poor conduct of the service providers. Views expressed by bus passengers in a study undertaken by CUTS are that from a sample of 1100 across three provinces, 83% have complained about affordability of bus fares and 65% said that their bus journeys were uncomfortable, mostly because of overloading. CUTS calls for the government to support the introduction of standards for seats for mini buses as they contribute to high fatalities in situations of accidents.
Lastly, access to quality and affordable healthcare is problematic for Zambian consumers because many public hospitals are beset by problems of lack of medical equipment and essential medicines as many other Zambian consumers are priced out of accessing private health care which is deemed expensive. CUTS calls for the government to ensure affordable and high quality healthcare to Zambian consumers and educate consumers on health care.
CUTS urges that service to the consumer in Zambia by the leadership should not be looked upon as a burden but as a way to offer tangible benefits to the people who have voted them into power.
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