The Civil Society Network Against Corruption (CSNAC) has urged the Consumer Protection Council (CPC) to investigate the activities and business operations of VFS Global Services, a visa application company carrying out business in Abuja and Lagos, for charging a non-negotiable rate of N400 (Four Hundred Naira) for SMS.
In a petition forwarded to the Director-General of the Commission and signed by the network's chairman, Mr. Olanrewaju Suraju, CSNAC said it is demanding an urgent investigation of the VFS Global Services because it is fraudulent, unconscionable and exploitative.
The petition read: "We write to formally lay a complaint against the business operations and actions of VFS Global Services and Operation; a visa application company carrying out business in Abuja and Lagos.
"The said company as part of its purported services to be rendered to visa applicants in Abuja and Lagos charge a non-negotiable rate of N400 (Four Hundred Naira) for SMS to be sent to visa applicants as regards the status of their application and incidental matters."
CSNAC noted further that the said service has been seen to be ineffective, fraudulent, unconscionable and exploitative.
It raised the issue of unconscionable charges and exploitation of consumers, adding that, "the VFS Global Services & Operation Company charge a mandatory SMS rate from visa applicants and the said service is designed in such a way that same is not optional, thus stifling competition and imposing the excessively high rate on the applicants. This is in utter breach of consumers’ right to choose and access to variety of quality products and services at competitive prices.
"The average amount chargeable by all communication companies for SMS is the rate of N4 (Four Naira) only and the said rate is way cheaper when utilizing bulk SMS service which comes at an average rate of about N1.50k (One Naira, Fifty Kobo) only, we are reliably convinced that VFS Global utilizes the said cheaper alternative.
"On the whole, in a normal visa application, the SMS notification usually required to be sent is less than four SMS which at most will cost about N20 (Twenty Naira) only, leaving an excess of about N380 (Three Hundred Naira) unaccounted for, in an obvious exploitation of applicants and an overcharge aimed at depriving them of their hard earned money."
Similarly, the coalition identified the inefficiency of SMS service, stating that, "disturbingly, the said VFS Global Services and operation company in an overwhelming majority of established cases negligently and or fraudulently fail to send the relevant SMS to update applicants of the status of their application as promised despite the un-refundable payment made to that effect.
"This is in a flagrant breach of consumers’ right to satisfaction of basic needs, as the said company owes a duty to ensure that their services meet the standard of quality promised such that there is value for money in the transaction.
"The aforementioned breaches ought not to be condoned in our society where the values of the Consumer Protection Council are entrenched in our laws, especially at a time where there are vigorous attempts at stamping out corruption practices and entrenching transparency in both public and private sectors of the economy.
"On the above basis, we hereby demand an urgent investigation of the VFS Global Services and operation company in the light of the above complaints in other to promote a robust and effective consumer protection and satisfaction in trade/services experience. We also request that appropriate sanctions be meted out to the said company where found wanting according to the reports of your good office’s investigations and the relevant provisions of the law," CSNAC said.