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Sunday, 01 August 2021

INTERVIEW: Safeguarding consumer rights in Egypt

Chair of Egypt’s Consumer Protection Agency Ayman Hossameddin talks to Al-Ahram Weekly about the agency’s role in safeguarding consumer rights

Khaled El-Ghamry, Thursday 22 Apr 2021
Safeguarding consumer rights
Hossameddin
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Egypt’s consumer protection law is meant to protect the rights of the purchasers of goods and services, ensure fair trade and competition, and promote the circulation of correct information in the marketplace. Consumer Protection Law 67/2006 was amended in 2018 by Law 181 to give more authority to Egypt’s Consumer Protection Agency (CPA) and more rights to consumers.

Ayman Hossameddin was appointed to head the CPA via a cabinet decree on 25 December 2020. He had been serving as assistant to the minister of supply for internal trade affairs for many years, during which he had prepared a strategy to tighten the monitoring of food and other commodities in the marketplace.

Before heading the CPA, he was the acting chair of the agency and had worked for three years as part-time deputy to its former head. The CPA is affiliated to the cabinet, and its work is supervised by the Ministry of Supply.

In 2020, the CPA received more than 169,000 complaints, including 52,000 statements of dissatisfaction with durable goods making up the majority of them. The agency can negotiate with companies or other bodies that are the object of complaints by consumers in order to find solutions that come short of legal action.

This approach shortens the time needed to solve problems, makes life easier for consumers, and has led to the successful resolution of complaints pending between the companies and the courts for years.

How does the new Consumer Protection Law define the consumer?

A consumer is a person who purchases commodities or services for individual or family use.

What problems may be encountered by consumers that could lead them to approach the CPA?

The law states that the agency is concerned with all and any problems resulting from the sale of a commodity or the offer of a service, no matter their kind.

What were the most significant amendments to the law in 2018?

There were four main changes in the amended law. It introduced an article that gives consumers the right to return goods bought within 14 days without a defect, provided that the goods are in their original condition. It increased the period for the return or exchange of a commodity to 30 days if the commodity had been found to be faulty. It toughened up the penalties on merchants that violate the law, fining them up to LE2 million. The fourth and most important change was obliging vendors to issue a receipt even if the consumer did not request one.

How does the law deal with the period when a purchaser can return bought goods? 

According to the amended law, the number of days in which a consumer can return or change goods has increased. Law 181/2018 gives the consumer the right to exchange or return items and receive a refund without providing a reason and without shouldering additional expenses within 14 days. There are exceptions, however, in which the consumer cannot claim this right. These include if the nature or packaging of the commodity disallows its return or exchange or if the commodity is expendable and could be damaged quickly. Another exception is if the goods are books, newspapers, magazines, or information programmes.

When is the period of return extended to 30 days?

A consumer has the right to return a commodity and receive their money back within 30 days of delivery if it is faulty or doesn’t conform to specifications. In this case, the supplier or merchant is obligated, based on the consumer’s request, to replace the commodity or give back their money without charging the consumer any additional cost. This is to ensure the consumer receives the quality commodity he or she paid for.

The law also identifies a period of at least two years as a warranty period for durable goods starting on the day the consumer receives the goods. The warranty includes the inspection, repair, and replacement of any damaged parts with new ones. During the warranty period, the consumer does not meet the expenses of paying technicians or transporting the good if it has to be repaired by the company.

If the supplier is not able to repair the product while it is still in the warranty period, he must replace it with a new one of the same type and quality or make a refund.

How can the penalties in the new law help to regulate the market?

Toughening up penalties is a way to pressure non-compliant vendors to abide by the law. This creates competition between merchants to protect consumer rights. It also puts all vendors on an equal footing, which in turn leads to better regulation of the market and support for the national economy.

Online shopping has drastically increased in Egypt due to the coronavirus pandemic. How does the law regulate this kind of trade?

The chapter on e-commerce in the law states that all commercial transactions that occur without the consumer directly inspecting the goods are considered to be remote shopping, such as shopping via the phone or on the Internet.

The law grants the consumer the right to return a product if it is faulty or unfit for its stated use without incurring expenses. In addition, the 14-day period slated for returning a product is calculated starting from the day of receiving the good concerned and not from contracting to buy it.

Consumers should be careful, however. They should do remote shopping on known websites that have landline or hotline numbers. Buyers should refrain from making purchases via phone numbers that can easily be dispensed with or are difficult to trace back to their original source.

What are the technical and control agencies with which the CPA deals to regulate the market?

The CPA cooperates with all the regulatory agencies in the country, such as the Supply Monitoring Department, the Internal Trade Sector at the Ministry of Supply, the General Organisation for Export and Import Control, the Industrial Control Authority, and other state bodies.

In the example of car purchases, the agency cooperates with the faculties of engineering at Ain Shams and Helwan universities to inspect vehicles that are the object of consumer complaints. It also cooperates with the Ministry of Health, represented by the Free Treatment Department, the Pharmacy Inspection Department, the General Authority for Veterinary Services, as well as NGOs concerned with consumer affairs.

Does the CPA protect foreigners when they purchase goods in Egypt?

The agency has created a new department to protect the rights of foreigners when they purchase commodities in Egypt. Foreign consumers can submit complaints to the agency, as has already happened with a few tourists. The agency ensured that they received their rights, working with their embassies in Egypt.

Safeguarding consumer rights
photos: Sherif Sonbol

What is the CPA’s role in supporting NGOs working to protect consumer rights?

The agency has a department liaising with these NGOs, helping to train their employees and receive complaints through them. It also cooperates with NGOs in organising events and offering technical support to them to spread a culture of consumer protection more widely. The new law gives more prominence to the role of NGOs in protecting consumer rights, saying that representatives of NGOs should be on the board of the CPA to participate in planning and decision-making.

How does the agency contribute to the services offered to consumers?

According to the new law, a supplier offering maintenance and home fixture services is committed to guaranteeing the quality of the work for at least a year, for example. If a consumer finds fault with the work, the supplier is obliged to return their money or redo the work, in addition to replacing defective parts or giving back their value in cash.

A supplier is also obligated on being contracted to give the consumer an estimate detailing the expected costs and the specifications of the work. If the consumer doesn’t receive the estimate, he has every right to appeal under the law if he has a complaint to make.

Does the CPA regulate secondhand purchases?

The law identifies the merchant’s obligations when it comes to secondhand goods. The seller should explain to the consumer the condition and any defects of the items concerned. In the case of the sale of secondhand vehicles, the vendor should present the consumer with a technical report from a licensed service centre stating the condition of and any faults in the vehicle. The centre and the vehicle’s original owner are both responsible if key information affecting the price or the purchase has been concealed.

How are the head and board of directors of the CPA appointed?

Law 181/2018 states that the chair of the CPA is appointed by a presidential decree or by a person deputising for the president. This reflects the state’s commitment to the CPA and its role in safeguarding consumer rights.

The board of directors is headed by the CPA chair and comprises an experienced deputy chair, a deputy chair from the State Council, and representatives of the ministries concerned and from unions, NGOs, and the Federation of Egyptian Chambers of Commerce.

The board is appointed for a renewable four-year term.

How does the CPA handle misleading advertisements or news that may be published in media outlets?

The agency monitors the media to ensure that advertisements are correct and advertised products are registered with the concerned authorities to make sure they are not harmful to the health and safety of consumers. In the case of misleading or harmful advertisements, legal procedures may be taken against the publisher, media agency, or website to ban the advertisements. The CPA will also publish a warning against the product concerned in media outlets and social media platforms to reach the largest number of consumers.

What steps does the CPA take to resolve complaints before legal action is taken?

To make a complaint, consumers should call the agency on its hotline 19588 from a landline, communicate via WhatsApp on 015 7777 9999, or contact it through the Agency’s Facebook page. They can also use the agency’s website cpa.gov.eg.

The agency receives complaints from consumers along with photocopies of warranties, purchase receipts where available, and maintenance agreements if the complaint is against a maintenance centre. A complaint is then referred to the CPA investigation department to communicate with the business or other entity with which the consumer has a problem. If this does not resolve the problem, the complaint is referred to the CPA board to pursue legal action.

What should consumers do upon purchasing a commodity or obtaining a service to protect their rights in case they need to file a complaint with the CPA?

Consumer awareness is imperative. They should make sure that the goods and their warranty are not faulty and that there is a licensed agency to ensure post-sale services. Consumers should also be aware that medical products should be registered with the ministry of health and the Egyptian Drug Authority, and they should receive a receipt for them.

Does the CPA work to resolve real-estate and land disputes?

The CPA works to resolve the disputes stated in Law 181/2018, which stipulates in Article 15 that the agency is concerned with two matters pertaining to real estate in order to prevent conflicts of jurisdiction between state agencies. 

The first is that the law prohibits real estate vendors from offering units to be built or selling or dividing land intended for construction except after they have obtained a building permit in accordance with the provisions of the construction law promulgated by Law 119/2008. The second is that the law prohibits any clause in a real-estate contract stating that the developer will receive fees or commission from a resale by the buyer.

Are there plans to broaden the scope of the CPA?

The agency works on all matters having to do with the sale of goods and services. It also has a preemptive monitoring role in the market. CPA officials are working on decreasing the time for the resolution of complaints from 16 to nine days. A department to follow up on complaints has also been introduced to communicate with consumers.

*A version of this article appears in print in the 22 April, 2021 edition of Al-Ahram Weekly

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