By Sailu Bah
The Consumer Protection Association of the Gambia (CPAG) held a day-long Stakeholder Seminar on Mobile Phone Services and Consumer Protection on Thursday, 9th October, 2014 at the NaNA conference hall on Bertil Harding highway, Mile 7, Bakau.
The theme of the Seminar, sponsored by The Gambia Standards Bureau (TGSB) and Gambia Competition and Consumer Protection Commission (GCCPC), was “Expanding consumer access to fair, affordable and reliable phone and internet services in the Gambia.”
Participants were drawn from stakeholders such as the Ministry of Information and Communication Infrastructure (MOICI), PURA, TGSB, GCCPC, the GSM operators and internet service providers, consumer protection groups, civil society, labour unions, media, students among others.
In his introductory remarks, Mr. Amadou Gaye, the Chairperson of CPAG, after welcoming the participants, said the seminar has brought together stakeholders to dialogue on how consumers can be protected and given good services which ensure availability, accessibility and affordability.
He said Consumers Rights issue first came to the forefront in 1962 when the then US President John F. Kennedy, in his joint statement to the US Congress, made a pronouncement on it. He said Kennedy, at the time, outlined four basic consumer rights and of which Consumer International (CI) added another four, thus making them eight basic rights. He listed them as the right to be informed, right to choose, right to be heard and right to redress, the right to satisfaction of basic needs, right to safety, right to consumer education and right to healthy environment.
Mr. Gaye gave a genesis of CPAG and the work it has been doing from inception to date. He said the government has acknowledged the work of CPAG and in that respect has awarded it a national honour.
In his keynote address, Mr. Lamin Camara, Permanent Secretary, MOICI, expressed his pleasure and honour in associating with this seminar on expanding mobile services and consumer protection and which he described as “good and relevant.”
PS Camara acknowledged that the theme is very much in tandem with the vision and mission of his Ministry. “Therefore, our goals though partly achieved, we have also faced challenges in industry. These challenges are present in all the value chain of the sector ranging from policy, regulation, operations and consumer reaction. I therefore thank CPAG and partners for organizing this seminar and their role in protecting consumer interest and their rights,” he said.
The MOICI PS said they are cognizant of the fact that to encourage foreign direct investments and improve services delivery for economic advancement, the requisite infrastructure has to be put in place.
He said being aware that information and communication opportunities can be better leveraged through accessible infrastructure and available content, especially in the developing world, the government, through his ministry, has been closely working with Gamcel and other operators to expand and modernize the national and international transmission infrastructure. “The first ever submarine landing is operational to boost our international connectivity and the ECOWAN Project is in progress that would overhaul our national transmission backbone to optimize the use of the submarine cable bandwidth,” he disclosed.
PS Camara said the Internet Exchange Point was also established and inaugurated in July 2014 to localize the country’s local internet traffic and thus make it more reliable, faster and secure. “These are developments that require consumer awareness in order to optimize the benefits of these infrastructures,” he added.
The MOICI PS said the creation of bodies like PURA, the Standards Bureau and the Competition and Consumer Protection Commission are clear testimony of Government’s concerted efforts to safeguard consumer interest and to create favourable market conditions.
“The Consumer forms an integral part of the industry ecosystem without which there would be no need for the ICT industry,” emphasised the MOICI PS.
He said the Consumer has to be treated as “king” by all industry players namely Policy Makers, Regulators and Operators since without them the role of the latter will be meaningless.
“We want Consumers to be fighting their rights and which we believe CPAG stands for and to engage in dialogue with service providers to cooperate and collaborate in addressing matters of relevance,” said Mr. Camara.
He stressed that the operators have a responsibility to provide unrivalled services to consumers through acceptable quality of service at affordable prices. “There is need for transparency and openness in the side of operators to ensure that the consumer is well informed to make choices,” he said.
The MOICI PS emphasised that the role of the Consumer is very crucial in the prosperity and viability of any industry. “We all have to be conscious of the fact that we from part of Consumers as we make use of ICT products and services hence the reason to make sure that Consumer interest and rights are protected at all times,” he added.
Following the opening ceremony, presentations were made by Mr. Amadou Ceesay, Executive Director of GCCPC, Mr. Amadou Sowe, Consumer Affairs – PURA, Madam Ida Mboob, Legal Dept. PURA, Madam Bittaye, Communication Engineer PURA, Mr. Papa Secka, Director General of TGSB, Mr. Bai Dodou Jallow from TGSB and representatives from Gamcel and Africell.
The presentations were followed by interventions from participants.