The Office of Consumer Protection (OCP) has been receiving some complaints of late, mostly related to hike in price of commodities and unfair practices in the market.
“We receive all kinds of complaints, but we can only help those involving a licensed business entity and the consumers since our job is to protect the consumers from fraudulent practices, listen to their feedback and maintain a safe marketing environment for the consumers,” explained the Chief Trade Officer (CTO), OCP, Gopal Pradhan.
When it does not involve a consumer, like for example, two business entities they forward such cases to the police, or in case of expired food products, to BAFRA.
Once it has been established that a trade rule has been broken, the business is issued 14 days to rectify their dereliction. On failing to do so, the business is asked to close down or pay a fine as well as compensation to the affected consumer.
One such case that surfaced was about a vegetable vendor selling chilies at an unacceptable rate, during the pandemic. OCP compared the vendor’s selling cost to the appropriate cost of chili, and issued a fine as well as compensation order to the consumer.
An oil depot also took advantage of misleading marketing by selling a product with a deficit of 5.5ml than it was actually advertised.
If the person is seriously aggrieved and needs a compensation, he or she will have to fill up a form available on the website and write their names and other details along with supporting document or evidence. Or they can simply call the toll free number 1214.
People have the option of going to the OCP website, and looking up the price of the commodities.
“It is a work in progress, but we are introducing a system on our website where consumers can punch the name of the item to find out the regional price of an item and other details to avoid paying more than what it’s worth,” said Gopal Pradhan.
A distraught consumer who was duped into buying defective furniture for his café was about to file a case in the court, when he stumbled upon OCP, and decided to lodge his complaint with OCP instead.
He and his fiancée used their entire life savings to open the café during the onset of the pandemic. After being told of a furniture seller, the café owner and his father went to check out the sample furniture. Impressed by the quality of the furniture, he had paid Nu 20,000 as advance payment for the furniture order.
“The furniture seller assured us that he knew the furniture owner well and will get us the deal at attractive prices,” said the café owner. But the furniture was never being delivered to him, and upon enquiry, the furniture seller demanded for the remaining amount to be paid to him.
“Rent was piling up, and I was desperate to get the business running,” the café owner said. After paying the remaining amount, the furniture for the café was delivered from Dagana, which were defective furniture. The café had no choice but to use the rickety furniture, which was bad for the safety of the customers, as one of them even fell after one of the chairs fell apart.
After lodging the complaint with OCP, the dispute committee issued an order to the furniture seller to compensate half the value of the goods bought. The swindler then appealed to the High Court, and the verdict was reached where the café owner won a compensation of Nu 29,600.
Recently there have been complaints about illegal businesses, contaminated and faulty products, service related and individual complaints. There have been 6 general complaints and 14 resolved ones.
Some challenges OCP faces is the lack of manpower and being new people aren’t aware about it. As a result, only the educated lot know how or where to lodge the complaints. Therefore, the farmers are treated as ‘vulnerable group’ who are prone to getting deceived.
The CTO said it would be appropriate to form a “consumer association” that will also represent the “vulnerable group”.
Another big issue is that complainants do not bring any kind of supporting documents or evidences or invoices on the purchase of the products. Bhutanese people rarely keep record or receipts of any purchases, much less the screenshot that can be accepted by OCP.
Unfortunately, OCP cannot help people who made online purchases from suspicious sources.
The OCP warns supplier or distributors against insufficient marketing information. For example, if a laptop has 1-year warranty, they have to specify what the warranty covers, and if the supplier fails to mention such details, they are liable to be penalized.