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In the following Interview, head of the Consumer Protection Agency Saeed al-Alfi discusses a Ministry of Industry and Trade decision to impose stricter punishments on false advertisement violators. The amendments introduced--expected to be passed during the next parliamentary session--also require traders to issue receipts to consumer.
Al-Masry Al-Youm: Why has the Consumer Protection Law been amended?
Saeed al-Alfi: The Consumer Protection Agency (CPA) receives complaints about misleading advertisements on a daily basis. We have noticed that these ads, which run on satellite channels and in the papers, have become widespread. The products also harm the consumer’s safety and health, so we have decided to raise the financial penalties in such cases. We have also contacted the Supreme Council for Journalism, satellite channels and the Arab League to stop these ads.
Al-Masry: When can an advertisement be described as misleading?
Al-Alfi: When they do not reflect the nature of the product advertised or give false information to the consumer who then discovers the product does not do what it promises. Some of these companies have phone numbers but no physical existence.
Al-Masry: Some have criticized the CPA, saying it is undermining the freedom of the media?
Al-Alfi: When an ad is proven to be misleading, then action has to be taken or else the consumer will be harmed. We issue a warning to the channel in question to remove the commercial.
Al-Masry: Who is fined in this case, and how much is the fine?
Al-Alfi: The producer of the product, the advertiser and the media channel used. Previously, fines ranged between LE5000 and LE100,000. The amendment will raise the minimum fine to LE10,000 and the maximum to LE300,000, which could reach LE400,000 if the product threatens the life of the consumer.
Al-Masry: How are you going to tell people that misleading ads will be criminalized?
Al-Alfi: We will launch a campaign in the coming stage before the law comes into force. We will use the different media.
Al-Masry: Why is the issuing of receipts being made obligatory?
Al-Alfi: Dozens of consumers ask us to help them return or exchange a faulty product, but we are often unable to help because the consumer does not have a receipt attesting to purchase. Therefore, we’ve decided to amend the law to compel traders to issue receipts.
Al-Masry: When is the new law going to come into force?
Al-Alfi: The amendments will be submitted to the cabinet, who will in turn pass them on to parliament for approval in the upcoming session.
Al-Masry: Does the consumer have a role in whistle-blowing traders who do not issue receipts?
Al-Alfi: Definitely. The consumer is the most important player. In fact, 60-70 percent of market transactions are not documented in receipts. This is very dangerous since the producers are quite often illegal and do not have commercial registers.
Al-Masry: What are the kinds of products that consumers can report to you?
Al-Alfi: We have a hot line--19588--for complaints. We receive reports about durable products, cars, foodstuffs, home appliances, electronic devices and all kinds of products.
Al-Masry: How do you handle reports with which you are not concerned?
Al-Alfi: We still respond to them. The CPA receives complaints about medications and communication services, which are not within our jurisdiction. We refer them to the concerned bodies, though.
Al-Masry: Does the CPA intervene in the pricing of consumer products?
Al-Alfi: There isn’t a single body in Egypt that intervenes in the pricing of any product, except for subsidized consumer products which are distributed by the Ministry of Social Solidarity and which are consumed by 66 million Egyptians.
Al-Masry: Some traders increase the price of products by a certain percentage if the consumer demands a receipt. What do you say?
Al-Alfi: The price attached to the product is its selling price. When the law will be enforced and traders will be required to issue receipts we will start processing complaints by consumers for such offenses. We will work in conjunction with the Finance Ministry and the Food Supply Police.
ِAl-Masry: Low-priced, low quality products are widespread. How is the CPA combating that?
Al-Alfi: Our role begins after a sale. We have no authority to monitor products. Besides, the consumer has to have a receipt to be able to exchange a product. There are other monitoring bodies that carry out this role.
Al-Masry: Why are consumer cooperatives being reorganized?
Al-Alfi: Since their establishment, their purpose was to provide products at low prices for low-income categories. There are 1080 branches of these cooperatives around Egypt, which together make LE650 million, whereas one single branch of Carrefour makes LE850 million. There must be something wrong.
Al-Masry: So how are you going to rectify the situation?
Al-Alfi: By making them sell only basic products--300 products at the maximum--at prices suitable for low-income groups. We will avoid luxury products such as caviar.
Translated from the Arabic Edition.