By Sarath Wijesinghe –
Festive season has emerged and the citizen is testing the buying power in purchasing the consumer items for festive season. Consumer is any actual or potential user of any goods or services made available for a consideration by any trader or manufacturer. (s75 of the consumer affairs Authority Act) This shows that every citizen is a consumer and need protection from the state to protect the consumer against unfair trade, hazardous to life and property of consumers, adequate access to gods, and seek redress against unfair trade practices (s 7 of the Act no of 2003).
Is Consumer the King – and Powerful
In theory yes. But in practice it may not be so, especially in Sri Lanka where the consumer is not organized as in other parts of the world. Consumer day falls on 15th March and the world Consumer Federation has started the agitation throughout the world claiming the legitimate share for the consumer as Kennedy’s statement in 1983 that – the consumer includes us all – “the largest economic group affecting and affected by almost all public and private economic decision yet they are the only important group whose views are often not heard”. In other parts of the world consumer is restricted from becoming unfair by the government as well as strong lobbing of the powerful organizations in maintaining the quality, standards, price and consumer rights of return goods, and maintain standards by the trade, manufacturer and the trader. Sri Lanka is full of adulterated and poisonous food and other consumer goods, unhealthy food chains and goods adulterated and downgraded with no restrictive conditions. Unhealthy food chains are thriving and there is no proper control of the quality and price of the consumer items expected to be monitored by the main regulate Consumer Affairs Authority.
Powers of the Consumer Affairs Authority as the Main Regulator
It is established in place of Fair Trading Consumer Act no 1 of 1987 and price control act 1 of 1987 for promotion of effective competition and protection of the consumer with a blend of UK, Australian and West modelled concepts creating a main regulator to regulate trade under s 9 of the act, which has power to undertake studies, issue directions, restrict selling above market price, determining standards, inquire complaints, enter into agreements, deal with offences such as refusal to sell, hoarding goods, investigations publication, prevent misleading , deceptive conduct and many more powers and expectations. Due to the abolition of the price control under the price control act, the new concept of price making was introduces where every trade is expected to exhibit the price mark and maintain standards of the items. (S29) It is left to the consumer to judge the effectiveness of the enforcement mechanism in maintaining the price and the standards of the consumer items. Is the CAA competent to beat the cost of living or it is teeth less organization is a matter the citizen will be deciding based on the performances of the organization.
Beat Cost of Living
Cost of living is a relative term depends on the conditions, environments, and jurisdictions. Rarely the prices of consumer articles are receded, but the salary and income increases from time to time. Price of rice or bread is not static, but consumer is ready to adopt the price fluctuations. In the west a major portion of the salary or income is utilized for accommodation when the food items are generally affordable, which is not the case in Sri Lanka. In the UK one could have a comfortable living with the minimum wages and in addition government subsidiary where necessary. In Sri Lanka though salary and income is less for many – traditional food items such as Jak, leaves, and village grown items (available in “Polas” – street markets in towns too) assist consumer to make ends meet comfortably. If the consumer is sharp and careful it is easy to beat cost of living provided the cost of mobile phone, tuition and extravagance is restricted. In short one should know (a) when to buy (b) where to buy, (c) how to buy and (c) what to buy. In England the apple at Selfridges- the most expensive food chain could be purchased at the street market near the store for a lesser price. In Sri Lanka street markets are plenty and food can be carefully purchased and s stored to be used later. Consumers make the biggest blunder by eating out in food chains with unhealthy oily food and Colas inviting long term diseases. Consumer should be trained for healthy food at identified outlets. It is an exercise one should practice.
Complains to public bodies and to be organized is your civic duty
Ideally CAA is expected to entertain complaints on the phone, via net and all over the country. This extends to all consumer items and to services as well. In other parts of the world the consumer is so well organized that the Trader is under pressure and control of the consumer. Media plays a vital role in this matter. In the UK when Cola company used the water from Thames river it is the media that came forward as in the Bopal case in India to teach unfair trade practices of multinational companies. In Sri Lanka CAA is expected to organize a consumer federation to assist the consumer. it is the duty of the NGOs to take the mantel forward without wasting time for Human rights situations in Sri Lanka which maintains highest stander ands. It is time for the citizen to organize themselves to beat the cost of living and to organize the life leading a careful systemic planned organized life with other fellow citizens.
Careful during the festive season
It is illegal to perform bogus Sales and overprice the consumer items especially during festive season. Consumer have no right to demand price reductions. but they have the right to purchase quality and healthy goods. Citizen may complaint to 1919 service, CAA and the board of Standers for quality and price of consumer items. A joint exercise should be launched by the CAA organizing the trader, manufacturer, industrialist and the citizen to work together is a competitive but a friendly environment to beat the cost of living and for quality and health consumer items at a reasonable price.
It is the right of the citizen and duty of the state to ensure the consumer should be able purchase quality items at a reasonable price, and it is his/her duty to look for healthy food in the interest of the citizen. United Nations too have recognized the right to satisfaction and ensure on basic needs, safety, information, chance to be heard, redress, consumer education and healthy environment as a right and a requirement to be facilitated for the consumer/citizen by the state. It is the duty and a statutory requirement of the main regulator CAA to organize consumer organizations and to work on a joint project with the consumer, state, trader, manufacturer and the citizen for a fair and reasonable system of trade and business for a better life for the consumer. Consumer should be vigilant and smart, the trader should be fair and reasonable and the state should be efficient for a better day for the consumer/citizen.
*Sarath Wijesinghe- former Chairman Consumer Affairs Authority