By Inġ. Helga Pizzuto - Chairperson, Malta Competition and Consumer Affairs Authority (MCCAA)
Nothing could have fully prepared the Malta Competition and Consumer Affairs Authority (MCCAA), and indeed the nation, for the severe restrictions and constraints to day-to-day operations brought on by the COVID-19 pandemic.
Yet the investment in business continuity, through the IT and training infrastructure put in place in previous years, ensured that the moment we were called upon to work from home and in agile circumstances, we were ready. Transition went on smoothly, while doing what it took to ensure our premises and staff were safe.
Targeted teams were beefed up and, for weeks on end, were working seven days a week, practically around the clock, including on public holidays, to ensure that essential services could be carried out in a timely manner. At EU level, where Member States initially scrambled to look after their own interests, we learned to coordinate better and share information and resources.
As people went online more and more, so did we, and we shifted our focus to conducting more monitoring and inspections of e-commerce to protect consumers. There are clear signals that this upward trend in online sales will continue and we have recently embarked on an EU-funded project to set up a centralised Unit that will provide its services across all the entities within the Authority to focus on the market surveillance of online sales.
From a regulatory perspective, we saw an exponential increase of notifications of new biocidal products, including disinfectants like hand sanitisers. Similarly, in the area of medical gases, we conducted an all-time high of 10,544 tests, more than double the tests carried out in 2019.
We continuously collaborated with the customs department, local importers as well as the health authorities to ensure personal protective equipment was up to the required standard.
The MCCAA played and continues to play a critical role in assisting consumers that were negatively impacted through the cancellation of travel arrangements and events. In the last year, the Authority assisted consumers and traders in over 11,000 cases and we acted as a bridge to find balanced solutions.
Of the over one thousand cases registered for conciliation, 40% were resolved through an amicable settlement. Assistance was also provided in relation to air travel with over 900 passengers receiving just under €100,000 in refunds. Even the European Consumer Centre in Malta, part of a European network, saw an 88% increase compared to the previous year: 835 requests for information and 395 registered complaints were received.
Within this flurry of activity, business continued as usual, and we retained our focus on implementing our long-term plans and maintaining our commitments both locally and internationally.
The past year has highlighted more than ever before the need for regulators to be agile and underscored the importance of collaboration among stakeholders. It has spurred us to find new ways to ensure that consumer well-being remains at the centre of our economy. We will continue to oversee the market and evaluate the tools we have at hand in support of well-functioning markets that benefit both consumers and economic operators.
What is the MCCAA?
The Malta Competition and Consumer Affairs Authority, established in 2011, brings together four entities with a total workforce of 159, whose primary functions are to:
- promote and enhance competition;
- safeguard consumers’ interests and enhance their welfare;
- promote voluntary standards and provide standardisation-related services;
- promote the national metrology strategy; and
- promote the smooth transposition and adoption of technical regulations.
The four entities are the:
- Office for Competition (OC);
- Office for Consumer Affairs (OCA);
- Technical Regulations Division (TRD); and
- Standards and Metrology Institute (SMI).
The three directorates within OC are responsible for Inspections and Cartel Investigations; Communication, Energy, Transport and Financial Services; and Primary Manufacturing and Retail Markets.
The three directorates within OCA are responsible for Information, Research and Education; Complaints and Conciliation; and Enforcement.
The two directorates within TRD are responsible for Regulatory Affairs and Market Surveillance.
The three directorates within SMI are responsible for Standardisation; Metrology; and Laboratory Services.
Helga Pizzuto, a warranted electrical engineer by profession, was appointed Chairperson of the Malta Competition and Consumer Affairs Authority (MCCAA) in 2016. Throughout her career, she has held a number of senior executive positions both within local industry and the public sector. She is also a former president of both the Chamber of Engineers and the Malta Federation of Professional Associations.