Consumer Rights Protection
Public Authority for Consumer Protection

A. Problem Analysis

 1. What was the problem before the implementation of the initiative?
Under the auspicious leadership of its magnanimous ruler, HM Sultan Qaboos bin Said, Oman has transformed from an underdeveloped nation to a developing nation over a span of 40 years. The transformation was truly remarkable considering the vast land area and the population dispersion. However, with the rise of consumerism, fraudulent cases of goods and services also increased which usually stemmed for sellers wanting to maximise their profits without regards to the health and safety of the consumers. Previously, Consumers’ Protection was a small branch under the Ministry of Commerce and Industry (MOCI) which handle such complaints from the consumers. With its limited resources and jurisdictions, their reach was restricted. It was also not easy for any citizen or resident to report fraudulent cases with regards to consumer goods as they would have to personally go to the Police or the Ministry’s offices to file such reports. Furthermore, it took a long time to resolve any complaint or issue filed which could range from take several weeks to more than a year for actions to be taken or resolved. Overtime consumers did not bother to complain or got embroil with the long hassle of asserting their rights. As a result, many fraudulent cases remained undetected and the perpetrators remained unpunished. In 2009, only 1,725 complaints were registered and 1,311 violations were issued in the Sultanate. Hence, consumers’ rights to good products and services could not be upheld while vendors were racking in millions at the expense of the consumers safety, health and fair play. In addition, geographically, Oman is a vast country covering 309k sq km. With a large consumer base on about 4 million people, and thousands of traders, it was a real challenge for a small branch of MOCI to police and regulate the consumers’ marketplace. Although the Consumer Protection Law was issued in 2002, its enforcement was tedious as there was only a small team working under the purview of MOCI. After the formation of PACP, following were the list of problems considered of paramount concern. 1. Low Consumer Reach: consumers use to have to travel several hours for logging a complaint with the Authority, as offices could be 200+ Kms away from Consumer place. 2. Women & Disabled: difficult for women to travel outside without being accompanied by men. Travelling vast distanced also presented a significant issue for disabled people. 3. Society Development: fair trade in a level playing field and provision of quality products and services to its consumers become one of the salient points which must be resolved in order to bolster Oman’s position as a developing nation.

B. Strategic Approach

 2. What was the solution?
In the bid to protect the consumers’ right and eradicate fraudulent practices in the sales of goods and service, the Public Authority for Consumer Protection (PACP) was formed via the promulgation of the Royal Decree No. 26/2011 on 5 April 2011. At the same time, Royal Decree No. 53/2011, Promulgating the Law of the Public Authority for Consumer Protection. PACP’s primary objectives are to protect the market from price fluctuations, guarantee fair treatment, honesty and credibility, develop consumer general awareness, find prompt solutions to consumer complaints, and fight counterfeiting, swindling and monopoly. In addition, PACP aimed to develop a sustainable downstream chain to support Oman’s thriving consumers’ market and protect consumers’ rights. The PACP’s action is bolstered by the Consumers’ Protection Act and its by- law which enforces the authority’s position as consumers’ watchdog. PACP also recently revised and enhanced the Legal, Administrative and technical procedures relating to consumer protection which included the procedure in handling complaints from electronic and social media channels. PACP strongly believes that providing an efficient, transparent and satisfactory service to the consumers can create a healthy and a prosperous consumer market. Therefore, it strives to protect consumer rights and promote awareness effectively, which requires participation from the consumers themselves. Ultimately, PACP empowers the consumers and engages them in the effort to create and maintain a healthy and prosperous consumers’ market. The core of PACP customers’ protection philosophy is customers’ feedback and complaints. These feedbacks provide the basis on which PACP can provide quality services to the consumers. PACP leverages on information technology and pervasive mobile technology through the eCompliant initiative which encompasses the whole business process and system architecture to empower the consumers through which they can lodge complaints, provide feedback and suggestions concerning any breach to the consumer rights from anywhere at any time. PACP provides consumers with proper guidance to make the right decisions, awareness concerning the latest market developments, the price index for commodities so they can be informed, and solutions to their complaints. Through active public education programme, the consumers will be empowered by the knowledge provided by PACP and will be well-equipped to spot violations to their consumer rights, which they can report back to PACP for possible actions and solutions. For example, based on tip-off from some consumers, PACP found some establishments selling tyres which get cracked and damaged in less than four months, and they are not willing to compensate the customers. PACP team investigated these establishments and took several measures to prove the low quality of the tyres sold. Since the introduction of PACP, more than OMR 750k (USD 1.9 million) of goods were seized before they were sold in the market. In 2014 (until October), a total of about 32k complaints and reports were received and about 79% of the complaints were resolved. This is about 1,860% increase in the number of complaints as compared to 1,725 complains received in 2009. A total of about 14k violations were issued as compared to about 1k in 2009 and about 87k OMR (USD 226k) of fines were imposed by October 2014. Additionally, PACP has put special consideration for Women and disabled. - Women: those who cannot travel to PACP Consumers halls without their husband, can use the electronic services through Mobile App and e-Portal to log a complaint and do instant follow-up. - Disabled: PACP e-Portal has text-to-speech option for completely blind to understand the content on the portal and use e-services.

 3. How did the initiative solve the problem and improve people’s lives?
The eComplaint service provides PACP with an important tool to monitor the market and provide a healthy environment for the consumers and ensure their satisfaction. The service includes an array of supporting eParticipation tools to keep the consumers engaged in different ways and mediums, provide timely feedback, and promote transparency. This initiative is both innovative and creative as PACP is able to provide various channels of communication to the consumers to empower them with the capability to police the market place. Essentially, the service provided the following advantages; • Increased Mobility - Consumers can sound their protest or concern and easily follow the updates on that matter in a transparent manner through any mobile devices • Transparency - The practice provides a more personal interaction with PACP and sponsors the development of a community around consumer protection • Personal Interaction - The practice promotes a healthy consumer environment where consumer rights are protected and the consumer community is educated. Additionally, push notification has been implemented in all platform for Recall, Warning, News, Advices and Awareness Campaigns. This ensures that all PACP app users (above 125,000+) will receive the alerts of updated news as soon it gets published from server.

C. Execution and Implementation

 4. In which ways is the initiative creative and innovative?
2011 – The Public Authority for Consumer Protection (PACP) was formed via the promulgation of the Royal Decree No. 26/2011 on 5 April 2011. At the same time, Royal Decree No. 53/2011, Promulgating the Law of the Public Authority for Consumer Protection. From its establishment, PACP works very hard to operationalise the organisation and reach out to the consumers. May 2011- June 2013 - PACP started off with 58 and now they have about 850 team members all over the Sultanate. They also started with a main branch and now serving with 13 Branches in all over the Sultanate. Today PACP was awarded one of the Best Six Practices around the world and PACP practices has been taken as a road map by all Arab countries Dec 2011 • Web Site Launch - The website provides unique identity to PACP over the web and up-to-date Information to consumers on various platforms which includes pc, tablets, phones. Web site is available in both Arabic and English languages • Call Center - Modern call center to receive and register consumer complaints and suggestions Mar 2012 – Implementation of CIMS CIMS is central repository for consumer Information which stores all consumers’ related information, issues, resolutions, calls records. Line of Business (LOB) and other applications are integrated with CIMS to store and retrieve the consumer records. Oct-2012 The e-Consumer Guide -PACP information and e-services were released on smart phones and tablets. At the same time , PACP started to engaged consumers through social media network sites by sharing information, pictures, videos, surveys and news sharing with consumers, and established PACP presence on Facebook, Twister, YouTube, Instagram and Oman Forum (Sablat Oman) May-2013 PACP upgraded the Call Center to Contact Center where consumers can contact using various communication method like Voice, Web Chat, Email. Subsequently, in Aug 2013, the PACP Website was upgraded to be an ePortal with more G2G and G2C eServices. October and November 2013: • Integration with international sources for commodity prices • Recalls and Warning Service to promote awareness and protect consumers from scams June 2014: A new version of the mobile app has been launched which includes the following set of innovative features. 1) Barcode scanning feature for commodity items at different retailers and stores 2) Monthly expense planner 3) Push notification for Recalls, warnings and advices to the mobile app so that consumers are notified instantly about any potentially impacting alerts. By Oct 2014, PACP has also finalized its 2015 plan for the eComplaint & other electronic service and it includes • Increasing the number of commodities that PACP monitors • Installing large display panel sat big shopping malls • Integration with Muscat Municipality and Ministry of Commerce and Industry

 5. Who implemented the initiative and what is the size of the population affected by this initiative?
The main stakeholders are the government, citizens and traders in Oman. The government established the Public Authority of Consumers’ Protection through the promulgation of Royal Decree No: Royal Decree No. 26/2011 on 28 Feb 2011. The Public Authority of Consumer Protection as a government entity implements and enforces the policies, rules and regulations pertaining to consumer protection. In addition, PACP developed and implemented the eCompliant initiative to solicit, register, collate and resolve all complaints, feedback and suggestion from the consumers who are also the customers of PACP. The entire system is supported by customer services in the various PACP offices not only in the capital city of Muscat, but also in major towns in the interior regions. It also includes a pervasive backend IT systems to register, collate and streamline the internal processes as well as the whole public awareness mechanism comprising both traditional media (print, screen, radio and television) and new media (portal, social media network). It is an example of a successful Government to Citizen eServices, in which PACP empowers consumers as their agents on the ground to support in regulating the vast markets.
 6. How was the strategy implemented and what resources were mobilized?
With the formation of the Public Authority for Consumer Protection (PACP) 5 April 2011. At the same time, the authority works very hard to operationalise the organisation and reach out to the consumers. As emphasised by the Chairman of PACP who stated that one of PACP’s aims is to return the consumer to his rightful place as a “master of the market”. PACP recognizes that the consumer is the first defence line in implementing consumers’ protection; hence it spent resources and efforts to step up on educating the consumers. Through education, consumers become the agents in the market and alert PACP to act promptly on errant traders. The authority’s effort is not only limited to the protection of the consumer as individual, but it benefits the trader too. By providing the traders with the information about product’s price in different places around the world, they would be able to price their products competitively. It also encourages the consumer to use local products. By May 2011, PACP started off with 515 team member with only 1 main branch in Muscat. Today, PACP has a team of about 850 team members all over the Sultanate. They are now serving 13 Branches in all over the Sultanate. PACP is a fully funded government entity. Its budget to implement and enforce consumers’ protections in Oman rose from about OMR 3 million (USD$7.8 million) in 2011 to OMR 10 (USD$ 26 million) in 2013. With the mandate, technical and manpower resources, PACP consequently succeeds in creating a symbiotic relationship between the consumers and the traders in a level playing field to support a development nation.

 7. Who were the stakeholders involved in the design of the initiative and in its implementation?
• Issue of Royal Decree No 26/2011 for the establishment of PACP. With the establishment of PACP, the government as the key stakeholder recognised the importance of consumers’ sovereignty and the need to protect them as Oman continues to prosper as a developing nation. Coupled with the Consumers’ Protection regulation, PACP is able to educate the consumers on their rights and enforce them. • Support from Top Management and the entire organisation in helping the consumers’ protect their rights and rectifying any complaint lodged. Consumers can send feedback even to the Chairman of PACP is they have any complaints about PACP services. That is the level of support rendered by the senior management of the organisation. • Clear and transparent process in handling and resolving complaints which increase the consumers’ faith in PACP and encourages them to be an active watchdog for the authority • Leveraging on social media network – with the active usage of the social media network, PACP was able to hassle the power of social media and integrate them into the eCompliant eco-system. This is essential as mobile penetration rate in Oman is almost 190% and every citizen and resident has a mobile device. With high mobile usage, internet connectivity becomes pervasive. Through the social media network, PACP is able to better educate the public and solicit feedback from them effectively and efficiently. • Use of ICT such as mobile application, portal and traditional media mix to empower the consumers and engaged them directly as PACP’s agents on the ground. By doing so, PACP team could act promptly once they have been tipped off by the alert consumers. As a result, actions can be taken by PACP within minutes instead of hours or days. • Lectures and workshops at regional events and national events to educate consumers such as at the Muscat Festival, Khareef Festival, Comex and Consumer Trade fairs. This is essential for educating consumers to be able to identify any violation of consumers’ rights and alert PACP immediately. At the same time, the consumers become savvier and understand their rights so that they do not fall prey to scheming traders.

 8. What were the most successful outputs and why was the initiative effective?
The joint effort between the consumers and PACP has allowed over 3,000 complaints to be reported and 2,400 to be resolved on average per month. This practice provides PACP with tools to constantly measure the consumer’s awareness and satisfaction which is the essence behind its role. Continuous public awareness programme is also essential and 46 awareness and 5 promotional videos, 22 news reports and coverage were uploaded on PACP’s YouTube channel and 12 educational episodes on the newly started Consumer Reports YouTube channel were also made available to the public. In addition, PACP received about 7,000 tweets and has over 94,000 followers on Twitter, around 4300 followers on Instagram, and 108,536 subscriptions on Facebook since leveraging on the social media platforms. In addition, it also has Google +: Online surveys are done through PACP website to assess customers’ satisfaction and feedback of PACP initiatives and programmes. In addition, customers can submit comments or complaints to the Customers Affairs Department regarding any issues with PACP. These feedbacks are channelled directly to the Chairman’s office for monitoring. Surveys are launched to measure Consumer feedback and opinion. For example view screen shots of the Consumer Satisfaction Survey that is currently active. The results of previous survey are also available for download in PDF, Excel format with summary statistical analysis. Survey results are exported to IBM SPSS Survey results are used as inputs by the design team while considering portal enhancement. Continuous monitoring through Dashboard for portal visitors’ information for Visitors, Traffic, Content, Goals and other Intelligent data. Escalation reports are raised whenever required for real-time alerts and actions. In addition public opinion is sought via feedback through Polls, Page content ranking service, etc., in addition to social media direct feedback. Contact Chairman service has also recently been provided for consumer to share their feedback with Authority Chairman directly and get the top management response. Lastly, PACP always take a pro-active approach. As an example, it has implemented a service through Melt-Water Dubai, which actually provides PACP insight/notification/complete detail about any post/article/magazine/tweet/feed that is published over internet (social media, newspapers, magazines, youtube, etc.) mentioning PACP Oman. Through this service PACP have been able to watch the internet spectrum to collect consumers’ feedback and improve the services delivery.

 9. What were the main obstacles encountered and how were they overcome?
a. Geographically, Oman is a vast market with diverse culture and large number of traders providing numerous products and services. It was a challenge for PACP to reach out to all consumers especially in the interior regions. However, by empowering the consumers through public awareness and training of their rights and equipping them with means to reach PACP directly, they become PACP agents on the ground. With easy access to PACP, these consumers can tip off PACP of any fraud or violations on the ground and actions can be taken immediately by PACP enforcement team. b. A large percentage of complaints were lodged physically at PACP centers – relying heavily on customer services centers for the eCompliant service is not effective. With the advent of mobile connectivity, e-Portal accessibility and social media sites, PACP is able to harness these technologies to equip the consumers and provide quality services to the consumers. c. Social media accounts are active with discussions bit are not used for lodging complaints. Through the eCompliant system, PACP is able to harness the social media network as an excellent medium for engaging the consumers and encourage consumers to lodge complaints on PACP’s social media sites d. PACP has implemented Contact Chairman and Complaint against PACP service to allow consumers/traders to lodge a complaint against PACP if they are not satisfied with the decision.

D. Impact and Sustainability

 10. What were the key benefits resulting from this initiative?
a. Increased in consumers’ awareness – This is evident from the 32k complaints and reports received which is 1,8% more than the complaints received in 2009 amounting to only 1,725 complaints. A total of about 14k violations were issued in 2014 as compared to about 1k in 2009, and about 87k OMR (USD 226k) of fines were imposed by the end of 2012. b. Empowering the consumers – Through the use of information technology, the various contact channels creates a personal link between the consumers and PACP, thus encouraging active and transparent input. When PACP engages the consumers they become its eyes in the market acting like its agents in inspecting and monitoring the market conditions. This is perhaps the most successful benefit as citizens protect other consumers from scams such as the following cases; i. PACP recently seized in excess of 27,000 KG of spoiled potato being collected from a waste dump and distributed to shops, restaurants and cafes as goods valid for human consumption ii. PACP recently stopped a company importing expired commodities, changing the production and expiry dates by using special procedures, and reselling them as new products iii. PACP recently stopped a company that re-manufactured expired and deposed tires and sold them to consumers as semi-new tires that have been used only for short period of time All these cases and others would not have been identified if consumers had not reported suspicions or lodged complaints to PACP through the eComplaint service. Through swift actions from PACP, such products which would have been detrimental to consumers’ health and safety were intercepted and disposed off before they were sold in the market. c. Governance & Taxonomy – PACP, through its electronic services and its web portal, is now able to fully govern and control the whole process of complaint logging and price monitoring at the whole sultanate. It also ensures the statistical grouping of complaint types which enables PACP to form a new draft of Law for Consumer protection. At the same time, it publishes awareness videos, share awareness campaigns, provide place to check item prices, logging a complaint/suggestion and do a follow-up. This ensures consumer awareness about their rights and PACP roles in the whole process. d. Customers’ Satisfaction – Through active interaction with the public through the eCompliant system, PACP’s interaction with the consumers are documented and this provides a good yardstick to gauge customers’ response level and satisfaction. The suggestions which have been received from opinion polls, surveys and suggestion service has enabled PACP to provide interactive services and simplified process. A successful practice encourages more consumers to participate and makes them more satisfied with PACP’s services. e. Systematic resolutions – PACP ensures that the consumers’ complaints are handled professionally and in a transparent manner. The eComplaint system provides an electronic way to handle consumer complaints which brings benefits including efficiency, archiving, monitoring, real-time reporting, and other benefits of eServices. f. Benefits for PACP – In order to monitor and enforce the consumer’s protection rights in a vast market like Oman, PACP would have to employ a huge number of staff and enforcement officers in the 9 regions. However, by empowering the consumers and equipping them with the means to contact PACP directly, the consumers themselves become agents for PACP. This enables PACP to focus on enforcement and providing efficient and effective services to the consumers. In addition through active public awareness programme as well as the portal, the consumers are able to obtain information on price indexes for goods and services as well as interact with PACP through various means. g. Cost savings for the consumers too – Through the eCompliant initiative, the consumers need not visit PACP offices to lodge their complaints or feedback. They can do it through various channels anywhere at anytime, including the webportal. The e-Portal acts as a central place for publishing and collecting & disseminating information. Based on 2014 statistics, through the webportal interface, more than 7000 complaints and 1000 suggestions were received online. In addition, the portal received a total of 430k visitors since its launch in 2012, average about 1200 visitors per day.

 11. Did the initiative improve integrity and/or accountability in public service? (If applicable)
Oman’s consumers’ protection initiative with its eCompliant system is the first of its kind in the GCC. Consumers’ sovereignty reign supreme in the sultanate after decades of limited consumers’ protection. Through the use of pervasive mobile and information technology, the public is empowered to bring to light malpractices and issues which infringe consumers’ rights. The joint effort between the consumers and PACP is allowing over 3,000 complaints to be noted on average per month and 2,400 to be resolved on average per month. With proper system and process in place, the consumer protection initiative in Oman is sustainable and would benefit the public even more in the long run. Its sustainability is bolstered by the regulatory acts and related policies that have been put in place to enforce consumers’ protection rights. With pervasive public awareness programme at major events, trade shows and traditional media channels, all consumers are educated on their rights to better services and quality consumer products. PACP through its masterplan continues to reach out to the consumers and increasing the number of commodities that should be monitored and publishes their price so that a wider range of price index is available through the mobile application. PACP also plans to bring about integrative eServcies with other government entities such as Muscat Municipality and the Ministry of Commerce and Industry to automatically get contact details, GPS coordinates, owner details, license details, and other relevant details of vendors. This will facilitate the PACP action team in response to consumer’s complaint or report. On top of this, the following factors will ensure the sustainability of the project. - Environment: with the PACP app, consumer can use all the services at finger tips. This ensures reduced pollution due to less travel/petrol burning. - Adapting to Societal Trends: people are becoming more responsive and adaptive towards mobile application instead of using traditional technological methods for services delivery. -Social impact and organizational benefit: the PACP mobile app is promoting social justice by providing transparent, efficient and meticulous process for complaint logging and follow-up. The process simplicity has enabled PACP to concentrate more on services delivery to promote consumer satisfaction. The experience gained by PACP in implementing the world class services is transferrable and can be used by any other organization inside Oman or internationally. An agreement has already been signed with an Egyptian authority for the replication of same experience and services in Egypt, as well as some Arab countries. Award Received: The PACP efforts are recognized by international bodies and has been granted “Best Six Practices in the World” award by Consumer International

 12. Were special measures put in place to ensure that the initiative benefits women and girls and improves the situation of the poorest and most vulnerable? (If applicable)
a. PACP has formed an eContent committee, where one of its key responsibilities is to document the lessons learned from projects and operational activities. PACP staff use the central repository to review the lessons learned for general information, work planning, or for trend and analysis purposes. The committee holds a review session and formally documents each lesson learned every two months. The committee staff represents the different departments in PACP each performing different functions. It is essential that at least one representative from each major area of the committee participate. The lessons learned activity involves determining the causes of variances in performance, the reason behind corrective actions chosen, and activities that worked well and those that did not. The lessons learned sessions allow the team to acknowledge what worked well and offer an opportunity to discuss ways to improve processes and procedures. Through such committee, all lessons learnt are used as a basis to improve PACP services to the target audience. b. Customers as PACP Agents on the ground - Oman is a vast country with more than 3 million population and more than 200,000 establishments providing product and services to its consumers. Regulating such a huge market takes lot of resources and tenacity. PACP understands its limitation and would be unable to cover the length and breadth of the consumer markets which range from food products, households, furniture, construction materials, vehicles and numerous other services. The most ingenious way is to empower the consumers who are also the customers to be PACP eyes or agent on the ground. This is done through educating the consumers about their rights and providing them with vital information to combat errant traders as well as enabling them with easy access to PACP through various contact channels; mobile, webportal, contact center, email, phone, social media sites, etc. Through such vigilantes, PACP is able to act upon tip-off by consumers almost immediately. c. Leveraging on mobile technology and social media network - Oman has about 180% mobile penetration, making mobile connectivity one of the highest in the GCC. Hence by using mobile technology, PACP is able to empower the consumers to be its agents on the ground. d. Pervasive public awareness programme is essential for PACP to educate the market about their rights. This enables the consumers to detect any fraud or violations and report them directly to PACP through various channels. e. Since there were a surge in violation cases with the implementation of eCompliant system, the Public Prosecutor Department was set up within PACP to bring cases to trial within 24 hours to 6 months. Previously, it took between 3 to 12 months for any case to be brought to trial. f. Consumer struggled to check item prices through the price checker service and match it with actual item in the store. Consequently, PACP implemented a bar code scanning feature in the mobile app to allow consumer to check approved prices.

Contact Information

Institution Name:   Public Authority for Consumer Protection
Institution Type:   Government Agency  
Contact Person:   Nasser Said
Title:   Mr.  
Telephone/ Fax:  
Institution's / Project's Website:  
E-mail:   nasser.almubaihsi@pacp.gov.om  
Address:  
Postal Code:  
City:   Muscat
State/Province:  
Country:  

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