20 Dec 2020, 11:47
Protection of consumer rights is an important task of the state. Who can teach citizens to know their consumer rights, how to explain to whom to file complaints, and what does the algorithm for handling consumer complaints look like? Mukhtar Ayapbergenov, chief expert of the Committee for the Protection of Consumer Rights of the Ministry of Trade and Integration, spoke about these and other questions, as well as about the results of the department's activities this year.
— Mukhtar Auezkhanovich, what legal innovations has this year marked for Kazakhstani consumers?
— The year 2020 can be considered a starting point for big changes in the field of consumer protection. In June 2020, the Parliament adopted amendments to the legislation on consumer protection, which put the interests of consumers at the forefront in all spheres of Kazakhstani life. Just as they prevail in OECD countries and are recorded in the UN Guiding Principles for the Protection of Consumer Interests.
New mechanisms affecting the effectiveness of legal protection for our consumers include an obligation for the seller to respond to consumer complaints.
At the same time, the role of the authorized body — the Committee for the Protection of Consumer Rights — is strengthening. It is endowed with state control functions, including preventive and unscheduled inspections. This makes it possible to identify unscrupulous entrepreneurs. But I want to clarify right away: every state body has the function of protecting consumer rights, everyone is obliged to carry out this work in their own industry.
— New Year holidays are ahead, and Kazakhstanis have already begun to buy gifts in large quantities. What rights does a buyer have if he suddenly turns out to be dissatisfied with a product or service, and how can he defend them?
— The entire system of consumer protection this year is being rebuilt to an algorithm for ensuring consumer rights here and now. To this end, we have introduced a three-step system for handling consumer complaints.
So, at the first stage, the seller is obliged to consider the buyer's claim on his own or by involving organizations for the protection of consumer rights. This is the very first stage when claims can be resolved peacefully here and now. In this case, non-governmental organizations act as subjects of pre-trial settlement of the dispute.
The second stage involves the involvement of the state. That is, if the seller does not want to negotiate, the complaint is sent either to the Consumer Rights Protection Committee or to another specialized body. For example, if the seller tweaked the scales or the online store did not send the goods, then this already “pulls” on fraud and is the sphere of work of the Ministry of Internal Affairs.
It is important to understand that the decision on the need to send a complaint to the authorized body is made by the consumer himself. The consumer's initiative depends on his desire to bring an unscrupulous entrepreneur to administrative responsibility.
Going to court is, in fact, the last step in considering a complaint. And now it is extremely important that the judicial system is reorganized to protect the interests of consumers. That is, the court will be disposed to rule in favor of the consumer.
Thus, we enable entrepreneurs and non-governmental organizations to first of all solve the issue without the participation of the state. For the convenience of consumers, businesses, and government agencies, the Unified Information System for Receiving and Considering Complaints e-tutynushy.kz will be launched from next year.
— What is the convenience of this system?
— Firstly, the portal has a mobile version, which allows the consumer to send a complaint about the quality of a product or service promptly, immediately after detecting a violation. At the same time, the system is a single window for filing applications and control over their consideration. This approach makes it as easy as possible for the user to communicate with government agencies and businesses. The digital system automatically recognizes which institution should send this complaint. The consumer will display the addressee, the one who will study the appeal, and where later it will be possible to get the result of the consideration.
But the most important thing is that the entrepreneur will see the complaint. And he will be able to independently solve the problem within 10 days, that is, satisfy the legal requirements of the consumer. Because if this does not happen, government agencies will automatically join the process. And this will entail, among other things, penalties for business.
Each trading entity will be assigned a unique identifier, which will be posted in a conspicuous place in retail outlets in the form of a QR-code. For example, at the front door of a store or at the point of sale of goods. If the buyer considers that his rights have been violated, he, having scanned the QR-code, will enter the system, and he will have the opportunity to send a complaint to the seller, a public association of consumers, a state body.
For the convenience of citizens, a number of standard complaint forms will be placed in the system, depending on the subject of the dispute and the sphere of services, lists and contacts of “defenders” and subjects considering disputes.
— Earlier, the Minister of Trade and Integration said that an analysis of the activities of government agencies will be carried out for their work in the field of consumer protection. How will it look like?
— Including using the data of the e-tutynushy.kz portal. Now such work is being carried out, but in a manual mode, since until this year the bulk of the requests were received on paper. We plan that the system will accumulate not only new complaints, but also historical data. That is, we want to include there appeals from the consumer protection sphere of recent years. This will improve the analysis and track the dynamics of changes.
The results of the analysis of consumer complaints will be submitted annually to the established Interdepartmental Council on Consumer Protection under the Government. At the meetings of the Council, it is planned to discuss the results of the work of government agencies, identify gaps and make appropriate decisions. It must be said that today the national system of consumer protection is the work of 19 government agencies and more than 200 non-governmental organizations. We have been assigned to coordinate this work.
— What is the role of the non-governmental sector in the updated system of protection of rights?
— In fact, it is he who should become the main intermediary between the consumer and the seller. Unfortunately, we have to admit that the bulk of our citizens simply do not know about their consumer rights or do not know how to defend them. And non-governmental organizations in the field of consumer protection are professional lawyers who are well aware of the intricacies of this area. And we very much hope that they will be the key players in educating the population about consumer rights.
Moreover, public associations of consumers will be provided with a state social order for consulting socially vulnerable segments of the population in the framework of their obtaining free legal protection.
Including because public organizations of consumers are endowed with the competence to conduct public control over the quality (for the consumer) work of business.
— What is the level of interaction of the Committee for the Protection of Consumer Rights with public organizations?
— There are currently 65 operating public associations of consumers in Kazakhstan, 40 of which interact most actively with us.
During one of his speeches, Minister of Trade Bakhyt Sultanov expressed the idea of uniting non-governmental organizations in the field of consumer protection into a single National Association — a kind of analogue of NCE Atameken. Many NGOs supported this idea — 30 public organizations from 15 regions of the country have already united into the Republican Association of Consumers of Kazakhstan. We have also established close contact with this Association.
Another initiative of the Ministry of Commerce was the introduction of an ombudsman institution to strengthen the role of the civil sector in the consumer protection system. Now non-governmental organizations are negotiating with each other to determine the candidacy of the Ombudsman.
These are very important steps. Since the consolidation of the civil sector in the field of consumer protection will allow more effective control and, more importantly, stimulate business to work in the interests of consumers. And it will ensure productive cooperation with the public sector. Including in terms of improving legislative procedures. This is evidenced by the similar experience of foreign countries.
— How many appeals from Kazakhstanis were received by the Committee on Consumer Rights Protection this year?
— For 10 months of 2020, the Committee and territorial departments received more than 17 thousand applications. This is almost 3 times more than last year.
We also keep statistics on the form of complaints, out of the total number of written complaints — 5,079, the hotline received 9,370 complaints, Telegram bot — 2,033, during the reception of citizens — 907, the minister's blog — 87, the chairman's blog — 331 appeals.
— What did Kazakhstanis complain about most often? Has the nature of the requests changed?
— In fact, the nature of requests changes insignificantly, if we take the current year, most often they complained, for example, about transport services — 6,920, retail trade — 4,560, consumer services — 2,553, tourist services — 1,976, communication services — 546, etc.
For transport services, there are issues of non-refund of funds for canceled flights, in retail trade - the sale of low-quality goods, failure to provide the buyer with complete and reliable information about the goods, refusal to exchange / return goods and deception of consumers. In the field of personal services, citizens are often not satisfied with the quality of furniture manufacturing and repair, the work of beauty salons and poor-quality repair of household appliances. If we take tourist services, then this is a non-refund of money for canceled trips, for communication services - the provision of low-quality Internet, the lack of choice of an operator when connecting the Internet and TV in residential complexes, etc.
— How were these issues resolved, how many complaints were satisfied?
— The number of satisfied appeals is 6,995, out of the total number of appeals there are also redirected to other government agencies, we have 3,258 of them, explanations were given on 7,409 appeals.
As a result of the measures taken, more than 166 million tenge was returned to consumers.
It is also necessary to note the work carried out to defend the interests of citizens to whom Bek Air did not return money for canceled flights. Thus, according to the results of three lawsuits of the Committee for the Protection of Consumer Rights, by a court decision, Bek Air should return 93.9 million tenge to 1,525 consumers.
On Nov. 20, 2020, the committee filed the fourth lawsuit in the interests of 121 consumers in the amount of 7.6 million tenge.
— Thank you for such an informative conversation!