As Minister responsible for consumer affairs, I welcome the opportunity to address you on the 31st anniversary of World Consumer Rights Day. World Consumer Rights Day is an event which is observed worldwide to promote consumer rights and is celebrated each year on March 15 since 1983.
Consumer International, the world federation of consumer organisations, defends the rights of consumers and over time this consumer movement has developed this vision into a set of eight basic consumers rights which include the rights to:-
It is common knowledge that the conduct of business transactions can no longer be conducted in an archaic way represented by manual procedures and long time spans. Instead in an era where speed is of the utmost importance, the entire world has moved to a digital sphere and consequently, information and communication technologies have become the tools for economic and social growth which are the driving forces in building a modern competitive economy and improving the quality of living of the world’s citizens.
Our society is bombarded with new technologies such as mobile banking,i-pods, i-phones, all types of smart phones, digital applications and social media networks at an alarming rate. It is now quite possible to carry out any business transaction without having to leave the confines of your home. Home security systems can be purchased and installed and then activated or monitored from remote locations with the aid of a cell phone.
In just a few years mobile phones have become an indispensible part of our lives with a growing number of consumers using mobile services. Mobile services have transformed from just being telephones that enable us to talk and text, to mini computers giving us access to information and services that are crucial to livelihoods and health. These are increasingly important tools that help to empower citizens and consumers. Consumers and their daily interactions are very much a part of this global phenomenon and they are well aware of the substantial benefits to be derived from the use of mobile phones, which vary not only in the different levels of sophistication but in usage and productive outputs and returns.
This year, the focus is on mobile phones with the slogan Fix Our Phone Rights under the theme “Consumer Rights in the Digital Age”. For years we have been warned that digital products are pushing us into a place where consumers’ rights are far less clearly defined. In today’s digital world, the consumer depends on access to reliable, affordable and safe communication networks.
It is known however that the application of digital technology is not without challenges. Some concerns are raised relative to privacy and security, a lack of legislation to protect individuals’ privacy in cyber space and sharing of information with a third party. There is no doubt that digital technology is a beneficial and crucial element in the development of a nation’s economy. However, the users of the technology must feel confident that they are protected from abuse and fraud and that their privacy is protected. Businesses and individuals must be certain that there is legal recognition to electronic records and that there is legal provision for the use of electronic signatures and restrictions in place regarding the disclosure of personal information.
With respect to the legal and regulatory environment, the Electronic Transactions Act has been enacted with its main purpose to provide legal certainty to electronic transactions as opposed to paper- based transactions. I am happy to report that we are very close to completing the appropriate Regulations to guide the enforcement of this legislation.
A Computer Misuse Act is very much in operation to protect computer systems and information stored therein from access by unauthorized persons. In addition we will shortly be enacting a Data Protection Act to regulate the collection, processing, storage and dissemination of personal data. This legislation should go a long way in making persons feel comfortable when divulging personal information to the private sector and to Government entities.
Government is currently looking at the matter of cybercrime and how it may impact on the way business is conducted. Indeed, my Ministry through the Government Information Service has begun to alert the general public as to the precautionary measures they should take in conducting purchasing transactions over the INTERNET; what to look for in terms of authentic web sites, the need to ascertain the physical location of the vendor, check the Uniform Resource Locator (URL), look for the security padlock icon and why you should not divulge certain personal information especially to avoid identity theft. In this context the necessity of introducing Distance Selling Regulations may also have to be examined.
Indeed, there is the need to enhance the country’s capacity to combat cyber crime particularly through an international framework and legal basis for cooperation with other countries.
On this note, let me state that whereas Government may be the champion or driver for the deployment of an efficient and enabling Information and Communications Technology (ICT) environment, the pioneers, innovators and current practitioners in the development of the local ICT industry have a significant role to play.
As we join the world in celebrating the 31st Annual World Consumer Rights Day, we hope that businesses and consumers accept their responsibilities in making the use of telecommunication in this digital world more reliable, affordable and safe.
I thank you.