Up Close … with Natcof’s executive chairperson Raymonde Course-‘Consumers should be well informed and responsible’


13-March-2012

Mrs Course

Mrs Course, a teacher by profession, is one of the pioneers who campaigned and lobbied for consumer rights in the early 1990s and this led to the establishment of the National Consumers Forum (Natcof) in 1994.

A year later, Natcof became a member of Consumer International (CI), the organisation which unites   consumer bodies worldwide.

March 15 is Consumer Rights Day and since becoming a member of the CI, Natcof has ensured that  consumers here join their counterparts around the globe to highlight issues which affect consumers the world over and here in Seychelles as well.

The aim of Natcof is to protect consumers by educating them on their rights and responsibilities and defend them from dishonest merchants and service providers.

Today, 18 years later, Mrs Course is still playing the same active role and has the same passion to educate, protect and defend consumers.

“But the fact remains that consumers have to be well informed and take their responsibilities at all times,” says Mrs Course.
From their office in Orion Mall, Natcof officers continue to receive consumers’ complaints and advise them on the best way out of numerous difficult and unpleasant situations which result from their uninformed and misguided decisions.

But after spending so many years educating consumers on their rights and responsibilities, giving them information they should know about products and services, telling them they have a right to choose between products and services and to say no if they feel they are being overcharged for goods and services, has Natcof succeeded in its mission?

Natcof’s message has reached all consumers who want to be educated
Mrs Course is affirmative Natcof’s message has reached those consumers who want to be informed. She recalls all the weekly radio programmes, televisions spots and articles in the newspapers and the leaflet educating consumers.

“Yes consumers in our small country have adequate information but while some of them take it seriously there are those who do not care and do not give much attention to such important  information which they need in their everyday life until they find themselves in a difficult or unpleasant situation,” Mrs Course points out.

She notes that such consumers, even when they are in difficult situations, they will come to Natcof only to present their problems so they can have a solution. But again they show no sense of responsibility.

Mrs Course says there are also consumers who just do not care about having any information as they do not or never listen to the radio, rarely watch TV and never read the newspapers or accept a leaflet.

“These consumers are so set in their ways and mentality and changing their mindset and attitude will always be a great challenge for Natcof,” adds Mrs Course.

She stresses though that the consumers’ body will continue to protect consumers and lobby for their rights to be promoted, adding that the two always go together.

But Mrs Course stresses that consumers should continuously arm themselves with information and skills to avoid unpleasant situations while Natcof will continue to advocate for better legal protection for them.

How to be a responsible consumer and avoid unpleasant situations
An informed and responsible consumer should be able and ready to ask questions to clear all doubts about a product or service at all times, Mrs Course says. Furthermore, such a consumer should find and take time to shop around, check the content and expiry dates of products which should be in one of our three national languages before putting them in their baskets.

An informed and responsible consumer should also always have a list of what he or she plans to buy at all times in order to remain within the set budget.

With regard to the vast number of services consumers have to choose from, Mrs Course says there again consumers have to seek as much information as possible.

“Consumers need to ask questions, seek advice, compare prices and ensure they get a good deal,” Mrs Course adds.

Consumer education in schools
It is a fact that young children can grasp and retain information better than their parents and through her interactions with consumers, Mrs Course has noted that very often people would say that while out shopping it is their children who would draw their attention to issues like expiry dates, strange languages or high prices in certain shops.
“Children influence their parents a lot and Natcof will continue to strive for more consumer education in the school’s curriculum,” she says.

So far consumer education is taught during personal and social education in schools and Mrs Course says the aim of Natcof is to continue lobbying to ensure consumer education gets more recognition and more pupils are educated in that area.

In its effort to better educate teachers on the importance of consumer education, Natcof two years ago hosted a CI-sponsored workshop for them.

Mrs Course notes that the outcome was very encouraging and following that, Natcof developed a teacher’s handbook.
In spite of some delay, samples of the handbook have just been printed and are expected to be launched before the end of this term.
“It is a very useful document which will make teaching consumer education very interesting and will also be of great help to teachers,” adds Mrs Course.
Mrs Course expresses her optimism that Natcof will make inroads in the schools and the fact that there are teachers who are members of the forum is further encouragement.

Natcof remains committed to educate consumers
“Consumer education is an ongoing process and Natcof remains committed in its effort to continue to give consumers the right information and lobby for them to be protected,” says Mrs Course.

She notes that in an environment where there is no control on prices, consumers are very vulnerable and without the proper education, knowing their rights to make choices and informed decisions and the strength to say no, consumers are bound to fall prey to a lot of dishonesty on the part of importers, service providers and merchants.

She notes that while Natcof continues to play its part, consumers should be more and more on their guard and not let themselves be duped by advertisement and publicity.

Mrs Course says Natcof will continue to advocate consumers’ rights and protection by seeking to make its contribution and its voice heard in various decision-making bodies and forums.

So far such bodies include the Food Control Board, the Seychelles Public Transport Corporation, Landscape and Waste Management, the Mont Royal Centre, to name but some.

Meanwhile Natcof is playing a very active role in the school nutrition policy which aims to change the food content of tuck shops and schools environment.

World Consumer Rights Day
Each year CI chooses a theme to commemorate Consumer Rights Day and for the past three years it has been ‘Our Money Our Rights’ and this year real choices in the financial services has been added to it.

According to CI, it is a fact that choice is a fundamental consumer right but consumers around the world are getting a very bad deal from financial services. But it is also a fact that a lack of effective competition on the market makes it difficult, if not impossible, for consumers to shop around.

“So how do consumers choose the right financial service provider when there is no competition?” asks Mrs Course.

She says apart from the fact that consumers find the issue difficult to understand, there is not enough information on them and going through the process is intimidating in itself.

She says Natcof will continue its campaign and lobbying for more consumer financial education starting  with its members.

Meanwhile Natcof’s message to consumers for the forthcoming Consumer Rights Day is: “Remember consumer, if you act in solidarity and you are united you have a lot of power to bring about change and defeat dishonest importers, merchants and service providers.
“Always make informed choices and be responsible.”

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