Jeanne Mukashema’s SIM card suddenly stopped functioning early last year, prompting her to visit the area representative of her service provider. The resident of Rubavu District was, however, informed that her SIM card had been “swapped” by someone.
The mobile money services provider Mukashema lost over Rwf1 million which was on her mobile wallet. Judith Uwimana also lost Rwf1 million in a similar manner. The acts were attributed to fraudsters, who connived with some unscrupulous staff of telecom companies to falsify the SIM cards information and claimed ownership of the phone numbers. Thereafter, the cheats made card replacements, rendering the old cards of their targets invalid before withdrawing all the money on the victims’ mobile wallets (accounts).
However, the two businesswomen were, later, compensated by the telecoms after they petitioned Rwanda Utilities Regulatory Agency (RURA) that compelled the service providers to refund the money.
Mukashema and Uwimana’s petitions were among the 4,000 complaints received by RURA between July 2015 and December 2016 against various service providers in all the sectors regulated by RURA, according to Tony Kulamba, the utilities watchdog. More than 80 per cent of these were amicably handled.
Kulamba said the majority of consumer complaints, mainly against transporters, telecoms and the water utility, were of theft, and negligence, leading to loss of property.
“We receive complaints through various communication channels… Over the reporting period, we were able to resolve more than 80 per cent of the total complaints received, reflecting the importance of the consumer’s protection unit,” said Kulamba last week.
Most of the complaints against public transporters were received during inspections conducted by the agency in Kigali, Northern and Southern provinces to monitor the compliance with regulations.
The RURA consumer unity receives consumer complaints via various channels such as its telephone hotlines, social networks, e-mails, and letters. Kulamba said all complaints are resolved by engaging all concerned parties.
The huge number of complaints has since forced the utilities regulatory body to swing into action to help address the identified lapses on the part of service providers to protect consumers.
Transport sector trails
According to the report released last week, the highest number of complaints was from users of transport services at 63 per cent out of the complaints lodged between July, 2015 and June, 2016. The sector also attracted 632 grievances between July and December 2016, with 169 cases filed against ICT-related service providers, Energy sector, 15, water, two and eight complaints on poor sanitation service.
The information and communication technology (ICT) sector attracted 21 per cent, water and sanitation services received the least complaint, and 4 per cent of the grievances were from unsatisfied energy sector clients.
RURA officials said the complaints were mainly on the quality of service, especially dropping-off passengers before they reached their destination, as well increase in fares and lost luggage, among others.
Players speak out
Emmanuel Musoni, a transport operator in Northern Province, says sector players are currently working hard to ensure they satisfy customer needs.
He, however, faults passengers who often don’t want to co-operate with operators whenever they implement new innovations and changes. Musoni says, “For instance, we still have passengers in Kigali who don’t want to embrace the new innovation of using ‘Tap and Go’ cards, or those who refuse to pay whenever transport fares are revised.”
Kulamba said many of the ICT-related complaints were on poor quality service, billing, and fraud via telecom banking systems. Unsolicited SMS, misleading information in some promotions, and customer service centres not responding well to client queries.
“New applications, like e-banking and telecom banking systems have created a big challenge for consumers in the ICT sector, particularly in a situation where clients lose money, but operators deny responsibility even when there is tangible proof. However, we make sure that the victims are compensated,” Kulamba noted.
Recently, the Rwanda National Police (RNP) and Tigo Rwanda signed an agreement establishing joint mechanisms on crime detection and prevention, including fighting corruption. Philip Amoateng, the Tigo chief executive officer, said the move would, not only boost consumer protection, but also enhance service delivery.
Meanwhile, most of the complaints against the sanitation sector concerned breach of contract terms, especially in collection and transportation of solid waste.
In the water sector, over 80 per cent of the complaints were about water shortage, while the remaining 20 per cent were related to the billing system.
According to James Sano, the Water and Sanitation Corporation (WASAC) chief executive, the utility is working to ensure affordable and sustainable services. The report indicates that the energy sector complaints were mainly on power outages and unreliable power supply. Recently, the Energy Utility Corporation Limited (EUCL) unveiled a new drive that seeks to increase access to electricity, as well as boost efficiency and improve revenue collection.
The utility also seeks to become a “highly efficient and customer-centred” organisation, according to Jean Bosco Mugiraneza, the Rwanda Energy Group (REG) chief executive. Mugiraneza said the programme will help boost performance and promote best practices and a ‘culture of excellence.’
About consumer affairs unit
The main programme of the consumer affairs unit is to educate consumers about their rights. RURA says they employ various approaches and strategies to sensitise consumers on why and how they can hold service providers in the country accountable. It runs an outreach programme on consumer rights in schools to help create public and industry awareness as well as improve the quality of service offered by sectors under its docket.
“We invite, and collect public views on consumer matters besides providing a channel to address consumer problems and resolve disputes,” officials said.
Kalumba said consumers are not yet well-organised to become vigilant to demand quality services, which he said is a big challenge. “Consumers must value their money and demand for quality services,” he said.