Deputy president of HCM City's Customer Rights Protection Association Phan Thi Viet Thu told Ha Noi Moi (New Ha Noi) newspaper about shortcomings in enforcement of the two-year-old Law on Customer Right Protection.
What are your thoughts on how the Law on Customer Right Protection in Viet Nam has been exercised?
The law took effect in July 2011, offering more tools to protect customers' rights, but its shortcomings have become clear. The biggest problem is that no official State agency is responsible for handling complaints from consumers although the law regulates that this should be the case.
Under the law, State agencies from central to local levels are obligated to protect consumers' rights and People's Courts are authorised to solve conflicts for consumers. Consumers should be exempted from paying court fees in advance for simple procedures.
However, courts have not implemented any scheme to receive consumers' complains. For example, in 24 courts across HCM City, consumers still have to pay court fees and their cases are treated like other civil prosecutions.
So, if the court fee is too high, people usually give up. In cases where the value of products is low, people usually consider the purchase an accident, so they are reluctant to waste further time and money on it.
So, where can people complain if their consumer rights are violated?
First of all, they should negotiate with the product/service provider or ask for help from civil societies dedicated to consumer rights protection and conflict settlement. If negotiations fail, they can ask for an intervention from arbitration offices or sue the providers.
However, these things can only be done if they have invoices, clear product delivery conditions and guarantee papers with the seller's guarantee. Without such papers, consumers are unable to claim their rights because they haven't met their legal obligations.
Many people are unfamiliar with the term "consumers' obligations" because they pay for the products/services and expect their rights to be covered by this. Can you expand on consumers' obligations?
Besides rights, consumers are obligated to protect themselves and others. Obligations include checking products before payment; buying products which have a clear origin, reporting to authorities if they detect individuals or organisations allegedly selling fake products. These actions also help support enterprises who operate legally.
In which fields do consumers usually have their rights violated?
Currently in HCM City, I find many consumers have their rights violated when they buy houses or apartments but sellers delay the scheduled handover.
In this field, it's difficult to negotiate and settle conflicts because housing companies usually refuse to join negotiations. In many cases, house buyers obtain bank loans to buy houses but investors take their money and flee.
Consequently, consumers have to rent a house and pay interest to the bank, while they cannot afford court fees to sue the run-away developers.
Many violations have been detected recently regarding tainted food and milk. Some blame the increased volume on poor management from State agencies. What are your thoughts?
An objective reason is that State agencies fail to control market because they are understaffed and have limited capacity.
However, I think the agencies should work more actively to keep up with the changing market and increasingly complicated tricks used by violators.
As a civil society for consumer rights protection, our association will help people learn about their rights and obligations, while consulting them in their use of products/services.
Moreover, in representing consumers we are allowed to test suspect products which could be harmful.
The test results will be reported to relevant authorities so they can take appropriate action. — VNS