The Consumer Protection Council in Nigeria is accusing the VIP Express Tourism Limited of abusing the rights of customers, ordering it to refund N25 million it wrongfully collected from them
| By Anayo Ezugwu | Dec 26, 2016 @ 01:00 GMT |
THE Consumer Protection Council, CPC, and VIP Express Tourism Limited are at daggers drawn over the violation of customers rights. The CPC had on Sunday, December 11, ordered the VIP Express Tourism Limited to refund more than N25 million to 63 aggrieved subscribers to its holiday packages. The order was based on the outcome of CPC’s investigation into the operations of the VIP Express Tourism Limited, following complaints of gross abuse of consumers’ rights against the company.
The CPC’s investigation was informed by the multiple petitions from consumers concerning the quality of service provided by the VIP Express Tourism Limited and in particular allegations that the company pressurised, manipulated or deceived its clients into signing contracts for the provision of vacation accommodation services.
“VIP Express Tourism Limited purchases timeshares on behalf of its members but once the member signs on to any of its packages, the contract cannot be rescinded neither can the member get a refund of monies paid because ab initio members were made to waive their cancellation rights upon signing the contract”, Dupe Atoki, director general, CPC, said in a statement that was made available to journalists.
The statement explained further that the company’s business practice is designed in such a manner that after a 90-minute presentation, prospective clients must immediately execute a 10-page contract and endorse 17 clauses containing a non-rescission clause and a non-refund clause, without the benefit of legal counsel, financial or other advise and in circumstances that do not afford the client time to consider the offer, is unscrupulous, obnoxious and exploitative.
The CPC alleged that the company’s operational method was predatory and that its business practice in which consumers were pressurised to unwittingly sign off their legal rights to rescind or get a refund of monies paid was unethical and exploitative. The council contended that, contrary to what has been obtainable in the VIP Express Tourism Limited’s business operations, international best practice allows for cancellation of timeshare.
The council disclosed that its investigation substantiated various allegations of violations of its enabling Act, arguing that “the complainants having paid various sums of money to the respondent at various times are entitled to a refund because the contract is obnoxious, unscrupulous, exploitative and therefore cannot be enforced against them.”
The CPC, therefore, directed the company to, within 30 days of the receipt of the order, refund the total sum of N25,062,223 to the aggrieved consumers, and that in the event of default pay interest thereon at the prevailing bank interest rate for any day of default until final liquidation. The council also ordered the company to within the same 30 days review its contract agreements by removing the clauses that waive the consumers right to rescind the contract and get a refund and submit same to the council for review, and that the agreements must specify the time within which prospective subscribers may rescind the contract and be entitled to refund.
It also directed the VIP Express Tourism Limited to ensure full disclosure of all material facts in all documents to prospective subscribers to enable them make informed decisions; refrain from the use of unscrupulous and obnoxious methods of persuasion to get customers to sign contracts; and to desist from the use of predatory systems to get the consumers.
The CPC also ordered the company to provide a written consumer complaint and redress policy with specific provisions regarding cancellation, reservation, refund of subscribers’ monies and to submit same to it for approval within 30 days of the receipt of the order and post same on its website. The council in the statement directed the company to present written assurances in line with Section 10 of the CPC Act that it would refrain from a continuation of any conduct which is detrimental to the interest of consumers of their services.
Reacting, the VIP Express Tourism Limited dismissed the order by the CPC compelling it to within 30 days pay some of its aggrieved customers N25 million over contract misunderstanding. It said the order was prejudiced in all its form. A statement issued by Isaac Omagbemi, one of the top directors of the company, on Monday, December 12, stated, “It’s absolutely out of place for the council to be ordering it to pay the aggrieved customers when it’s currently in court over same matter. “How can the CPC be the judge in its own case? The matter in question is currently being addressed in court, and will amount to extreme prejudice and usurpation of the powers of the court for the same CPC to be awarding the aggrieved customers N25 million.
“What is beyond us, therefore, is why the council could not wait for court’s judgment before issuing out this order. It’s therefore, incomprehensible for CPC to be giving us guidelines on what should contain or not in our contract, even in a business that an individual gets involved at his or her own volition. We urge all our customers and partners to ignore the CPC order as our team of lawyers are on top of the situation. They will advise us appropriately and further actions will be taken.
“We want to state that we respect and value the commitment and patronage of customers, and will continue to ensure that we will never renege in whatever agreement we keep with them, hence they should discountenance the bad publicity perpetrated by some mischief makers whose interest is to bring down a company that had rendered selfless services to the people and carried out social responsibility projects across the country.”