HOW TO PROTECT THE CONSUMER DURING THE FESTIVE SEASON
Posted on April 12th, 2018

Sarath Wijesinghe former Chairman Consumer Affair’s authority

Neglected consumer to be transferred to alert consumer

Most powerful consumer worldwide is powerless in Sri Lanka as the most neglected group in the society, not conversant with the rights, laws, precautionary measures on consumer transections, and generally, knowledge on the important materials and availability on laws on consumerism, has become a soft targets and easy prey of errant trader and exploiters in action mostly during the festive season. Festive season is nearing and the errant traders are getting ready for bogus sales to get rid of the unsalable stock and dumped consumer articles at high prices, when professional pick picketers” , gangsters and underworld thriving are rallying round in main towns, public places and public transport in addition to the pavement hawkers loitering busy on sale of adulterated beverages fruits and vegetables with poisonous chemicals as preservatives. Consumer items with no quality and substandard which are freely dumped from other countries are piled in Pettah” and other outlets with no control or regulation from any regulators such as CAA, Ministry of Trade, and Local authorities who are well paid and looked after with all facilities and privileges. CAA executive officers are provided with vehicles and the branch officers are well paid and looked after with no effective results to the citizen/consumer on consumer complaints and redress. Despite the high cost of living the consumer is determined to fulfill the social traditional and family obligations at least during the New Year which is nearing fast. The trader is aware of your needs and most of the needs will be available freely at a different price mark possibly with the price mark SALE, which is always the normal practice during the festive season and the year end. Dis -organized or ill – organized consumer with lack of knowledge on consumerism and little or no assistance from the active groups and the Consumer Affairs Authority are helplessly planning for the festive season in order to observe traditional rituals better with friends and families. Consumer has to be educated on their rights and obligations that they should request a proper receipt, check the standards, read the directions carefully specially those in small letters and in a different languages they cannot understand, question the trader on the brand, quality, durability, origin, more information on hire purchase agreements and reviews of the item. Minister and Ministry of Trade is fast asleep or engaged in other political duties over pressed stretched overloaded with political interests. Maintaining Trade affairs and CAA under the Trade Ministry is of conflicting of interests and should be separated.

JUST TRADER” . Are all traders to be accused/ guilty of malpractices?

There are duties and obligations on the side of the trader/industrialist by the society and law to perform for the system of governance to proceed for his existence as breakdown of the system and confidence of the consumer/citizen will be detrimental to the trade regime in the country. There are many traders and industrialists who have understood this reality but unable to fulfill the requirements due to the inaction of the regulators/governance and lack of facilities and/ or the

implementation of archaic rules and non-implementation of regulations already in place for smooth functioning of the system. That the trader and industrialists are bound by written and unwritten rules regulations conventions and norms bound by law and practice are not or little known to the consumer, trader and the regulators who are in a world of their own neglecting civic and legal duties by the society and the governance. According to the regulations of the Consumer Affairs Act amongst many obligations trader is bound to issue a receipt to every consumer in the format shown, and defend the quality, durability, and to provide correct information on the product on sale, which are in the public domain where the consumer is entitled and bound to possess relevant information. Government is spending billions of rupees on the CAA for educating the public and organizes consumer societies, and conduct education sessions starting from the school. It is a sorry state of affairs that not a single active consumer society is initiated at the auspicious of the CAA though it is mandatory and the duty to set up a strong network of organizations with the help of the civil society for a better day for the consumer and a friendly cooperation with the consumer trader and industrialist. Sari Wanija” is a Jathaka” Story where the just trader correctly identified the large gold bowl and paid the correct price, willfully rejected by another errant trader to condemn and purchase it for less in future from a poor family where the errant trader died of a stroke having heard the news of the just trader purchasing it at the market price. Just traders are not uncommon in Sri Lanka and very common in the west due to the system of good trade practices in action. It is common practice in the west to accept the items returned within the stipulated period in good condition but not in Sri Lanka where exchange is permitted.

Trader is an important component for the society

Trader is an important component to the society and for healthy economy it is vital for the consumer and trader to maintain understanding, friendship and co-existence for the smooth running of the economy. Trader should not be considered an enemy as traditionally considered due to misunderstands on the respective duties and obligations that trade and trader is a vital component of the governance.

Modern trends in shopping

Modern trends on shopping which are revolutionary and current worldwide are active in Sri Lanka to a considerable extent, with the availability of high internet density and 23 million mobile phones in circulation. A fair cross section of the citizen is used to compare, review, and check the prices and quality on line and international online platforms such as Alibaba, Amazone” which are active in Sri Lanka with wide section of followers the society, with credit card users fast growing. Living on debts is a system disliked in Sri Lanka traditionally is now fast growing with the chains of food stalls with banking facilities systems/devices encouraging debts which are profitable to them. Sri Lankans were a nation allergic to debts hesitant to live under a roof with mortgages, unlike in the UK and Europe where almost everything including cars, houses are on montages as a way of life and a part of governance as an income for the state’ where the trend of using currency are fast disappearing on cards and instant banking. West are debt ridden countries and nations with ample social benefits in place which may not suit us. One may argue that it is a sorry state that Sri Lanka is also following the western trends of living on debts and mortgages re purchase, credit card and online perches on credit which are fast growing. But one may argue online buying may be safer reliable and consumer friendly and it is left to the consumer to decide the purchase hobbits.

Way forward

Media in UK and Europe, is in the forefront with magazines like” WHICH” educating and directing the consumer with a strong network of organizations. In the West the name and shame and traders unity to give a good service to the consumer is raising the standards of successful consumer and trade regime. Trader is well restrained and obliging to the conventions and practices to maintain the good will to deliver top priority for consumer satisfaction. They do not consider trader and consumer enemies as there is an understanding, tacit bond and agreement to help each other for their own benefit. 40% UK shopping is online- which according to them – is safe trading and consumerism with checks and balances with the involvement of the Department of Trade and Commerce whereas CAA, the counterpart in Sri Lanka is inert, ineffective and inefficient. Consumer must be educated, alert and organized- not necessarily against the trader, but look after themselves to achieve due rights as consumers utilizing the available resources and legal framework. CAA must perform well using enormous powers vested in them and the Governance must bring about necessary changes early to give the consumer and the trader due place and rights in the sociality. Main responsibility is on the CAA to exert the pressure on the main machinery and the provinces to education and formation of powerful consumer societies. Governance must separate CAA, to exist as an independent body headed by a non-political qualified person with a legal background appointed by the constitutional council preferably with a legal background. Media and civil society has an enormous responsibility in bringing about co-existence of the key partners, namely the Regulators, Trader, Industrialist and the consumer for a better consumer regime for Sri Lanka. Suffering of the consumer continues and it is not a solution suddenly rise from deep sleep and raid some shops with the limited staff at every festive season as a ritual as published in the media these days. Let us pray and wish the consumer success during the festive season.

(Reading materials Simple Life 16/8/2008-27th 5/2007 Observer Regulatory powers/Junk Food 15.3.2007/ All by the author who was former Ambassador to UAE and Israel and former Chairman CAA who could be contacted on sarath7@hotmail.co.uk)

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