Public Authority for Consumer Protection

A. Problem Analysis

 1. What was the problem before the implementation of the initiative?
Under the wise leadership of His Majesty 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. Before 1971, Oman with small population of 654k, had a small airport, only 10 km of paved road and 1,700 km of unpaved road, no seaport, several guesthouses and a GDP of about USD$339 million. By end of 2016, Oman GDP was worth 69.83 billion US dollars and the population increased to about 4.4 million with more than 26k km of paved road connecting all the major cities and regions. About 75% of its population lived in urban environment. With affluence, commercial activities and consumerism increased multi-folds. However, with the rise of consumerism, fraudulent cases of goods and services also increased which usually stemmed for sellers wanting to maximise their profits regardless of the health and safety of the consumers. Previously, Consumers’ Protection was a small branch under the Ministry of Commerce and Industry (MOCI) which handled 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. Eventually 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. Geographically, Oman is a vast country covering 309k sq km. With a large consumer base of about 4.4 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. As Oman progress towards becoming a developed country, 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 and achieving the sustainable development goals of ensuring healthy lives and promote well-being for all at all ages; ensuring sustainable consumption and production patterns and promote peaceful and inclusive societies for sustainable development, provide access to justice for all and build effective, accountable and inclusive institutions at all levels.

B. Strategic Approach

 2. What was the solution?
Public Authority for Consumer Protection (PACP) embarks on a strategy to protect the consumers’ right and eradicate fraudulent practices in the sales of goods and service. This is done through the development and implementation of a holistic structure by leveraging on various information communication technologies such as portal, mobile technology, call centres, PDAs with inspectors to go cover urban areas as well and social media platforms to reach out to consumers and upheld consumers’ right. The Maidan initiative encompasses an electronic complaint system, an integrative feedback mechanism which includes the merchants and various other government entities and an acceleration process which automates the actions at various levels.

 3. How did the initiative solve the problem and improve people’s lives?
Through the Maidan initiative, PACP provides consumers with proper guidance to make the right decisions, awareness concerning the latest market developments, the price index for commodities and . 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. This is evident through more than 600% increase in complaints, notifications and violations received in 2015 as compared to 1,725 complains received in 2009. About 6k violations were also issued in 2015 as compared to about 1k in 2009. Users from anywhere in Oman file their complaints through various channels such as e-Portal, Facebook, Mobile Application, call center and PACP offices. These complaints are registered onto an integrated system which utilizes web services to enable registration of complaints and follow-up on the status of the complaint by integrating with other systems to exchange data. This streamlines business processes at PACP and enables interoperability between departments and systems. Consumers now no longer need to follow-up on their complaint status as each compliant will be automatically channeled to various PACP systems and department for actions. Through Tawasul application consumers can lodge a complaint about a product directly to retailer or merchant under the supervision of PACP. The merchant can comment on that complaint and resolve it among themselves. The case is closed if the consumer is satisfied otherwise they can escalate it to PACP or if the merchant failed to take any action within 72 hours, the case will be automatically escalated to PACP. The system has been successful in preventing some serious violations which could affect consumers’ health. 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. PACP further witnessed that the establishments were abandoning their responsibility to replace those tires claiming that the damage is not due to manufacturing defects but misuse from consumers. A number of violations were issued to these establishments for their non-conformance with consumer protection laws and regulations. In addition, public health is also more secured as through Maidan services, errant food sellers are detected early and expired foodstuff are withdrawn from public consumption. For example, through a public tipoff, PACP officials were able to summon a Commercial Center for displaying popular products without validity date and no info label. They blatantly disregard consumers’ right and attempted to trick the consumers. Another example of a devious profit-making scheme was also uncovered when seemingly innocent “Back to School” season was used to sell chewing tobacco products to school-going children. The suppliers curved holes inside books and hide chewing tobaccos inside these holes. Fortunately, these books were detected in time and confiscated. The errant merchant was prosecuted. In total about 58k complaints and reports have been registered from 2014 to 2016 through the Maidan initiative and 81% of these are resolved, 12% are being resolved and about 6% referred to Public Prosecution. About USD$ 9.5 million worth of goods were recovered before being sold in the market.

C. Execution and Implementation

 4. In which ways is the initiative creative and innovative?
PACP has developed the Maidan initiative to allow the public to provide a suggestion or lodge a complaint regarding any violation to the consumer rights including market price hikes, monopoly, low quality services and products, and counterfeits. This initiative 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. PACP alone cannot cover the length and breadth of all market segments in Oman. Only through educating and empowering the consumers with direct channels to the organisation, PACP can widen its reach to cover the large segment of the consumers’ markets. 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 Healthy Environment - Consumers can lodge a complaint electronically from anywhere at any time through one of the different channels they are accustomed to.

 5. Who implemented the initiative and what is the size of the population affected by this initiative?
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 Maidan 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. This electronic service allows the public to lodge complaints and suggestions concerning breaches to consumer rights. Through the Maidan Services, PACP reached out to the citizens and residents of Oman and through its mobile platform, users from rural regions can also gain access to this services electronically. Since PACP have total of 16 branches all over Oman which is covering all areas around each branch, including visits of inspectors to urban areas to check the price fluctuations, and monitor market prices of goods and services and curb their rise. PACP works on making consumer aware of misleading advertisements and the role of the Authority in fighting them. As well as receiving complaints from consumers and consumer societies, investigating them and finding appropriate solutions. In addition to a continuous campaign of following up the commercial activities, monitor movement of goods and services and make sure of availability of basic goods. By covering all of that, PACP is actually benefiting the whole population of Oman, where citizens and expatriates, men and women, children, adults, and old age people, with a population of 4.58 million are getting affected by this initiative.
 6. How was the strategy implemented and what resources were mobilized?
As a government entity, the project is fully funded by the government. The main implementation of the initiatives is as follows. 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 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. The Business Continuity Plan was also put in place for PACP electronic services and processes. By Nov 2013, the Regional Office of the International Union for Consumers was established at the PACP premises. At the same time, the Public Prosecutor’s Office was also established within PACP’s premise to expedite the enforcement efforts. By 2015 the system was fully integrated with other entities and systems such as the Royal Oman Police and Ministry of Commerce. Such integration ensures seamless efforts from multi-parties and organisations in addressing public safety and consumers’ protection. By 2016 to make the system more expeditious PACP have successfully accomplish below milestones a. Integration with Oman Public Prosecution OPP which ensures that all violation cases are dealt with expeditiously. Before this integration it was a manual process which were taking weeks and months in some cases after this integration it is just a click and the case will be forwarded to OPP. b. Signature Pad implementation with Questionnaire. This improvement expedite the process of investigating any issue raised by the consumers. Previously the questionnaire must be printed, signed and uploaded again to the system, which was a time consuming activity. Hence to make the system smoother and easier for the public, PACP adopted electronic identification through the Public Key Infrastructure (PKI) which automates the entire process. c. In progress integration with Muscat municipality (MM). d. Direct Integration with some suppliers for items prices. Continues working with other suppliers such as the larger hypermarkets Carrefour, Lulu and Millennium. e. Tracking system for seize goods unfit for human consumption is added to expedite the persecution and disposal process. Further Plans – PACP will develop more integrated services with other government organisations such as the Ministry of Health and the Ministry of Agriculture and Fisheries.

 7. Who were the stakeholders involved in the design of the initiative and in its implementation?
The main stakeholders are the government, citizens, residents and merchants in Oman. 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 Maidan 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 system 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. Through deeper integration with other related government authorities such as the Royal Oman Police, Ministry of Commerce and Industry and the Oman Public Prosecution, this initiative is the benchmark for successful move towards an integrative government (i-Government). In addition, the Maidan initiatives works genuinely to serve the consumers and provide the best services and response to them. As such the enabling system backing Maidan ensures that the PACPs’ inspectors respond to consumers instantly and reduce the delays through the following modules. a. Transportation module which allows PACP transportation division to maintain the number of available vehicles for which the inspectors can request for their fields visits. b. Automated ticket assignment module which allows Inspectors to register any issue related to their devices. Automate ticket assignment, routing and escalation to the right agent, at the right time. For example, they can report the technical issues of the PDAs’ and portable thermal printers to the IT department in order to get an immediate solution or replacement to avoid any delay in their work.

 8. What were the most successful outputs and why was the initiative effective?
1. Ensure healthy lives and promote well-being for all at all ages - The initiative has been successful in preventing some serious violations which could affect consumers’ health and safety such as the case of poor quality tyres and the attempted sale of tobacco and tobacco related products hidden in books to children which were successfully thaw by the authority. 2. Ensure sustainable consumption and production patterns- This is achieved through PACP’s primary objectives 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 multi-electronic and social media channels. In addition close integration with other related ministry and government organisations ensure that consumer products are fit for consumption and derived from sustainable and reliable sources. 3. With support from the 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 if they have any complaints about PACP services. That is the level of support rendered by the senior management of the organisation. In addition, there is also a 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. This helps to promote peaceful and inclusive societies for sustainable development, provide access to justice for all and build effective, accountable and inclusive institutions at all levels. 4. By Leveraging on social media network, PACP was able to hassle the power of social media and integrate them into the Maidan 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.

 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 centres – relying heavily on customer services centres for the Maidan services is not effective. With the advent of mobile connectivity 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 Maidan initiative, 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. Consumers are not always lodging complaints because access is not always easy especially in the interior regions. Hence, providing mobile access to Maidan services is essential to its successful adoption by the consumers. PACP developed a native mobile application for various platforms on IOS, Android and Windows. So far this is the most useful application for PACP with 57.5k downloads till date on android and 9.02k downloads on IOS till date and 3.5k downloads on Windows phone till date.

D. Impact and Sustainability

 10. What were the key benefits resulting from this initiative?
a. Increased in consumers’ awareness – In 2016 around 15k complaint have been registered and around 12k complaints, reports and violations have been resolved and around 1k complaints have been referred to public prosecution. This is about 1,300% more than in 2009. Through effective public awareness programme, consumers are more aware of their rights and are able to take proactive approach to report violations or infringements of consumers’ rights. 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 Maidan service. Through swift actions from PACP, such products which would have been detrimental to consumers’ health and safety were intercepted and disposed of before they were sold in the market. c. Governance & Taxonomy - Through the Maidan services, PACP 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 Maidan 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 Maidan initiative provides an electronic way to handle consumer complaints which enhance efficiency, archiving, monitoring, real-time reporting, of public services offered by PACP.

 11. Did the initiative improve integrity and/or accountability in public service? (If applicable)
Before the implementation of the Maidan initiative, many consumers were not aware of their rights. They were often exploited through misleading advertisements, poor quality goods, fractional weights and measures, overcharging and fake goods. This was especially rampant in the rural regions. Many business owners care solely for their bottom line and not concern for public safety. A few firms also monopolised the market and control the prices. A large majority of consumers were also ignorant and do not know their rights. Some consumers were also illiterate and poor. Due to all these reasons, consumers’ rights were often violated Through the Maidan initiative, they can now reach out to PACP through so many different channels available. Consumers from rural and urban areas can register their complaint without investing single penny, either by fees or transportation coast to reach out to PACP office physically. They can make complaint by our free hotline number, Mobile application, website just to fill simple form and their issue will be taken care of PACP. Consumers are totally empowered which ensure that the market place is a fair and level playing field. PACP also listed the following rules to ensure the safety and integrity of consumers and merchants. 1. Business owners gets materials, manpower, machinery and other resources from society. Therefore, it is obliged to supply the right products at reasonable prices to the public. 2. It is the moral responsibility of business to protect and promote the interests of consumers. 3. The basic function of business is to satisfy the needs and expectations of consumers. It is through consumer satisfaction that business can earn profits and continue operations in the long run. 4. PACP is committed to the welfare of general public by encouraging fair trade practices. 5. Education and information through newspapers, radio and television, Magazine, mobile application, web sites call centre and so many other sources have made people conscious of their rights as consumers. The success of this initiative are measured in various ways; through the successful resolution of every registered case and customers’ satisfaction surveys. Such surveys are done periodically to ensure the quality of the services provided and to enhance such public services. The consumers can also register complaints against PACP directly to the Chairman and respective departments if they are not satisfied with the quality of services provided. Such open interaction ensure transparency and efficiency of the services provided.

 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)
PACP has a dedicated team of female inspectors who will attend to women-related issues and affairs. This include conducting of inspections to the women only salon or spa, beauty centres, etc. For example, in 2016 the primary court in the rural town of Sur, released a judicial ruling against newcomer with misdemeanour display and sale of expired materials. This constituted is a violation to the consumer protection law 66/2014. This was made possible because the female inspectors were able to act promptly from a complaint. In addition, PACP stepped up on their awareness programmes and roadshow to educate the rural communities throughout the sultanate on consumers’ rights and protection. Most important on how to reach out to PACP if they have been cheated by the merchants or any other infringement. Through PACP mobile application they can easily register their complaints immediately. In addition, PACP also has regional offices to cater for those who preferred to report the issue personally.

Contact Information

Institution Name:   Public Authority for Consumer Protection
Institution Type:   Government Department  
Contact Person:   Ibrahim Al Ghafri
Title:   Director of IT  
Telephone/ Fax:  
Institution's / Project's Website:  
Postal Code:  
City:   Muscat

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