Posted on January 29th, 2017

Sarath Wijesinghe – former Chairman Consumer Affairs Authority, former Ambassador UAE and Israel

Cost of Living

Cost of living goes up in any country and in any jurisdiction with different paces and speeds. In some economies the increase is minimal based on the proper management of the economy. In the west the rise is slow and controlled due to competition, proper management of economy and fierce consumer activism and the organized and powerful consumer society network which is lacking in Sri Lanka. In Sri Lanka cost of living cannot be controlled as the state economy is out of control as in many underdeveloped jurisdictions. In Sri Lank the cost of living is sky rocketing and the Governance is finding ways and means of controlling it desperately and unsuccessfully. Most of the food and consumer items in Sri Lanka are imported in the fast changing economic culture and floating dollar – a threat to cost of consumer items. Local production of food and consumer items is minimal as we depend on imported items to arrive for the next food consignment most probably with increased prices. International business and imports are in the hands of private sector- mostly non-nationals or business giants obtained citizenship for trade and business in Sri Lanka with close business links with India and Pakistan. Black money is freely moving in the society due to bribery and corruption rampant as air; with a part of the society lavishly take part in spending sprees, catalysing the increase of consumer prices of most items. Credit card culture is encouraging the middle class on unlimited and uncontrolled spending habits until next month or the ultimate demand from the bank or the lending institution. Credit card culture suited to the rich west with excellent social security system and modern society of extreme rich capitalism looking after the downtrodden by social benefits.

Village life with nature

Village and the villagers are the most affected due to the newly introduced Credit Card, online, and modern way of life with modern equipment freely available on easy payment terms, consumer items at door steps even at remote villages, and availability Mobile/FB and modern way of life eradicating the village way of life living with nature with self-sufficiency in food, vegetables, fruits and consumer items. Today young villager could easily purchase a three wheel on easy terms resulting over one million of young on street junctions for business to pay the bank loans and finance payments, leaving the village fields empty for the

remaining the elderly to continue the local food production which is lucrative and the need of the hour. 25% private land is household gardens ideal for the growth of vegetables which is not expensive and short supplies which in unutilised.

Maximum retail prize

Maximum retail price of Dhal is made 159 per kg, Mysore Dhal 159 per kg, Dried Sprat from Thailand 490.00, Dubai sprat 405.00, Potato imported 115 and white sugar Rs. 93 respectively. While attempting to maintain the prices of listed items countrywide with the handful of staff, it is difficult to fathem how the cost of living is reduced considering the increase of prices of all food and other items tremendously which the consumer is feeling every minute.

Legal Basis of the process under S 18 of the CAA

According to Act No 2003 where the Minister is of opinion that any goods or any service is essential to the life of the community or part thereof, the Minister in consultation with the Authority may by Order published in the Gazette prescribe such goods or such services as specified goods or specified services as the case may be; no manufacturer or trader shall increase the retail or wholesale price of any goods or any service specified under subsection (1), except with the prior written approval of the Authority; a manufacturer or trader who seeks to obtain the approval of the Authority under subsection (2), shall make an application in that behalf to the Authority, and the Authority shall, after holding such inquiry as it may consider appropriate: a) Approve such increase where it is satisfied that the increase is reasonable or b) Approve any other increase as the Authority may consider reasonable and inform the manufacturer or trader of its decision within thirty days of the receipt of such application and where the Authority fails to give a decision within thirty days of the receipt of an application as required under subsection (3), the manufacturer or trader who made the application shall be entitled to, notwithstanding provision of subsection (I), increase the price: provided however, where the delay in giving its decision within the stipulated period was due to the failure of the manufacturer or trader to give any assistance required by the Authority in carrying out its inquiry into the application, the Authority shall have the power to make an interim order preventing the said manufacturer or trader from increasing the

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 reduced, but the salary and income increases slowly 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. 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 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.

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 sander 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 The quality of life has greatly improved and the expectations of the community are frequently increasing.

Way Forward

Modern technology, modern way of life, crave for education and globalisation have led the consumer to unexpected and unachievable expectations. The mobile culture has embraced the community though it is costly now every other person has a mobile and the telephone has become a part of day-today life. It is the right of the citizen and duty of the state to ensure the consumer is 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, and 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. Citizen must be modern and fast in embracing modern technologies and way of life. But it has to be done with caution and thinking of the future generation, health and the environment. NGOs and Consumer organisations have a vital role to play in this regard as WHICH in UK stands guarding the consumer warning and directing in consumerism. State invention and regulation is essential to direct all the players in balancing their civic duties to the citizen in promoting fair deal to all parties concerned in the society.

Writer could be reached on Sarath dw28@gmail.com

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