Commentary: Consumers Need Protection

Consumer protection in Cameroon is a legal right voted into law by the country’s lawmakers in 2011.

The law in effect, applies to all transactions relating to the supply, distribution, sale and exchange of technology, goods and services relating to consumer protection. These transactions include health, pharmacy, food, water, housing, education, financial services, banking, transport, energy and communication sectors.  Consumer protection according to experts is the practice of safeguarding buyers of goods and services and the public against unfair practices in market places. Laws and regulations on consumer protection are intended to prevent businesses from engaging in fraud and specified unfair practices in order to gain an advantage over competitors or to mislead consumers. Cameroonians have often cried foul to contest the exploitative practices by businesses that are extremely detrimental to consumers. The struggle to phase out such business attitudes has been on for years, yet suppliers have adamantly refused to readjust even though some continue to hypocritically refer to consumers as king.

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The decision by government to, as from 15 October this year, implement the Phone Tax Law that will permit phone and tablet users in Cameroon to pay 30 percent tax after purchasing any of these electronics has naturally raised a lot of dust.  This of course is normal. First, the consumer does not understand why he or she should be the one to pay the price for tax evasion by the electronic supplier; second, the consumer is questioning how such goods could sneak into the country without having paid their frontier dues. In any case, even though the burden on the implementation of the law will appear to be falling squarely on the buyer, a closer look at it tells of a situation where government wants to alert customers not to buy such appliances. The reason is simple; once one accepts to pay the 30 percent tax, one is incidentally promoting customs evasion.  

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The buyer as per the application of this law has the latitude to avoid falling into this trap. What one simply needs to do is to take along one’s sim card which will be inserted into the new phone to see if he or she will be asked to pay the 30 percent or not. If the answer is a monosyllabic yes, the response will equally be a monosyllabic no. By so doing all that was brought into the country without payment of customs duty will remain stocked and good for the dust.

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Whereas some people are questioning why the customer should be the one to pay the price or do the work that was supposed to be done by customs officers, it is clear that the law if well implemented with buyers playing the catlike cunning attitude, traders in phones and tablets will feel the pinch. Unlike what many are already thinking, this is not a new tax imposed on consumers but a strategy to collect money that slipped through the fingers of the customs department.

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