Hamoud Al-Bokhaiti “At the end, it is up to the consumer.” [Archives:1998/19/Interview]

May 11 1998

Mr. Hamoud Qassem Al-Bokhaiti is the deputy president of the Yemeni Society for Consumer Protection (YSCP), in addition to his job as Director of Financial and Administrative Control and Audit at the Ministry of Supplies and Trade. With a BA in business management, Al-Bokhaiti, 34, occupied several official posts in the Ministry since 1984.
His work at the General Directorate of External Trade made him very well acquainted with the goods that enter Yemen from various foreign countries as well as what is produced locally.
To know more about the YSCP and how effective it is in raising public awareness of the rights of conumers is obtained value for their money, and promoting general public welfare, Dr. Salah Haddash – Yemen Times Managing Editor – interviewed Mr. Al-Bokhaiti.
Q: When was the YSCP established?
A: The YSCP was established on 20 September, 1997, as a non-profit non-governmental organization. It took us several years to finally put the society into shape since there is no precedence for such an endeavor in Yemen. We had to rely on the experience of other countries.
Q: What made you decide to form this society in the first place?
A: The move towards a free-market economy has made it possible for huge quantities of goods to enter the country. Some importers bring commodities without much regard to their suitability for consumption or compliance with international standards and specifications.
Furthermore, the official Yemeni Authority for Standards and Specifications is not fully doing its part. The inability of state organs to exercise adequate surveillance on the standards of products and services created a big need for non-governmental monitoring to complement the official effort.
Q: How does the YSCP do its job?
A: Our main task is to ensure the consumers obtain good-quality goods and services at reasonable prices. There must be a rationalization of consumption, considering the side effects of the economic reform program.
People must get to know how and where to buy goods at the best value for their money. A consumer has the right to choose. If there is an incidence of deception or cheating, then the YSCP’s role is to provide legal advice or representation for compensation claims when the need arises. The YSCP tries to make the ordinary citizen heard when state policy is made.
So basically the role of the YSCP is to act as a popular base alongside the enacted laws and regulations.
Q: Who is eligible to be a member of the YSCP?
A: YSCP membership is open to all Yemenis and people legally resident in Yemen. Those who join specialize in this field. The YSCP tries to serve consumers everywhere in Yemen. They do not have to be members.
Q: Does the YSCP target women in its awareness campaign?
A: Yes, women are a prime target since they mostly do the shopping and purchasing of household goods. We are now in the process of preparing special TV, radio and press programs for raising the awareness of women consumers. Also, we hope to establish a special department supervised by women to help women.
Q: Are you planning to open YSCP branches in other governorates?
A: We are already receiving applications from people in Aden, Hadhramaut, Taiz and Hodeida to be YSCP representatives in those governorates. The problem, however, is that we have very limited resources making it difficult to open new YSCP branches.
We have submitted an action plan to the government outlining the possibility of including the YSCP budget within the general budget of the state, considering that the YSCP carries a lot of the burden that should be borne by the state. This is actually the case in Jordan and Tunisia. The government should also allow YSCP representatives to be present at border customs inspections.
Q: What common misconceptions do you encounter in your work?
A: Many people think that everything that is imported from abroad is good quality. This is certainly not true. There are many high-quality Yemeni products. The YSCP cooperates with the Industrialists Society and the Chamber of Commerce to raise public awareness regarding these issues. Buying national products will immensely encourage the local industry, increase investments and create new jobs.
I call on all industrialists and merchants to open their factories to visitors such as university students or YSCP representatives to see for themselves. This will raise the people’s confidence in the national industry.
Also adopting recognized national standards and specifications will ensure good quality and facilitate the trade of goods with other countries when Yemen products have a distinct identity.
Q: What punishments are handed out to offending merchants or industrialists?
A: There is no punishment without a law. The law of standards and specifications has not been issued yet, and neither has the law of food monitoring nor other relevant laws. Therefore, how can we oblige a given factory to adhere to standards when these standards are not specified.
Yemen needs to adop internationally recognized standards and specification before it can join the World Trade Organization (WTO).
Q: What does the YSCP actually cover?
A: The YSCP deals with all consumer goods and services such as food, clothes, medicines, electrical appliances, building material, medical services, etc.
Q: Do you receive a lot of complaints from the public?
A: People often complain to the YSCP about bad food products and medicines. We raise these reports to the relevant official bodies to do the necessary test measures to stop distribution of these commodities. If they do not respond, then the YSCP declares these goods unsuitable.
The need remains for a special law to protect consumers to give us more power to do our work.
Q: How should the role of the media be in all of this?
A: The media are vital in raising public awareness, but they are not playing their role as it should be. Media people blame it on lack of legislation to curb merchants from advertising dud products. The media, however, should play the role of public educator.
The YSCP has a special public relations department to prepare media programs for the public. These programs are based on real cases monitored by the YSCP.
Q: How should a complaint be lodged with the YSCP?
A: When submitting a complaint, a consumer should also submit a law-suit so that his or her complaint can be legally lodged.
A case in point is the 37,000 sacks of rotten flour which were imported into Mukallah and later shifted to be sold in Dhamar. The YSCP filed a law suit and succeeded in stopping the distribution and marketing of the flour, which was later destroyed. All this was done through the appropriate courts and legal channels in both Mukallah and Hadhramaut.
Q: What has the YSCP done regarding the issue of smoking?
A: We aim to make cigarette manufacturers print a health warning on all packets, and leave the final choice to the consumer.
Q: Does the YSCP receive any external support at all?
A: At the moment we rely mainly on our own resources and donations of our members. We have been in contact with the Ministry of Planning, and started preparing special programs to submit to donors to help us with our work. There are many people from the public sector who volunteer their work for the YSCP. They have been immensely helpful in providing knowledge and expertise.
Q: How do you advise consumers to choose good commodities and avoid the bad ones?
A: Common sense is very important in this matter. A tub of yogurt sold unrefrigerated and exposed to the sun, for example should be avoided. At the end, it is up to the consumer.