Posted on January 23rd, 2023

Sarath Wijesinghe (President’s Counsel former Ambassador to UAE and Israel former Chairman Consumer Affairs Authority)

Consumer his power and the unfortunate plight today

Consumer is not aware of his strength and power within as in the other parts of the world where they are a powerful force as an organized group. Today egg issue has been the tip of the iceberg to open out the Pandora’s Box on eggs as an eye opener to the consumer of the way he is cheated/treated and misdirected by the regulator (CAA), the trader, and the industrialist in every way. Unfortunately the consumer in Sri Lanka is not properly organized and without any leadership against the exploitation by the trader, industrialist and the governance in addition to the economic downturn and the unbearable depreciation of the rupee due to mismanagement of the governance in power before. Treatment to the consumer (considered to be the citizen as every citizen is a consumer) is unfair and shabby compelled to go through the hardships, for exorbitant prices of consumer articles they are not responsible for. Citizen deserve legally and morally consumer items of essential items of quality and of required standard as guaranteed by the constitution various kinds of freedoms and legal protections legally and as a policy. Consumer’s plight is miserable in that he is compelled to purchase the consumer items for the price nominated by the trader at his will in the free economy. In the United Kingdom this egg issue would have been taken over by ‘’WHICH’’ – the main pressure group followed by many on behalf of the helpless consumer awaiting for the mercy of unknown for his legitimate rights to live guaranteed even by the United Nation guidelines on consumer at large. As the consumer day on 15th march is nearing this is a timely topic for the consumer groups in Sri Lanka (If any) and other interested groups to take over activism.

Prize of Eggs the talk of the town

Prize of Eggs is the talk of the town in Sri Lanka today being as a consumer item for the daily meal  affordable for the consumer as a part of the meal which is sky rocketing with no control by the regulator and the governance expected to monitor. There are reports the Consumer Affairs Authority has determined the maximum prise of eggs by section 18 of the Consumer Affairs Authority Act no 9 of 2003 for rs 43 and 44 in the market with no specifications or standards mentioned as required by the act in the interest of the consumer, they say is the king and powerful to bring down governments. But again there are conflicting press reports and social media campaigns that eggs are not available for the price determined which is absolutely true. Then what is the use of the maximum price if it cannot be implemented by CAA that requires bullions to maintain to maintain the staff and branches countrywide. Now that the price control concept is done away with abolition of the control of prices act (chapter173) by act no 9 of 2003 the process of implementing is still difficult of the price implementing the Gazetteer notification. This matter was discussed at the COPE committee of the Parliament chaired by Hon ‘’Ranjith Bandara’’ who interrogated the parties and proposed that the outdate act not changed since 2003 to be amended or a new act proposed that will cater the new challenges and demands in the digital stage with international digital platforms active in Sri Lanka used by Sri Lankan consumers. Consumer Affairs Authority too was summoned and given a timeframe to come up with suggesting as the issue is imminent and about to burst. Yet no one has still has emerged with a solution temporary or permanent on eggs and others connected as a tip of the iceberg as situation on prices, quality, quantity, availability, are uncontrolled with the economic crisis and the shortages of consumer items mainly on essential food items for the poor. CPOE chairman inquired from CAA whether there is a research unit and mechanism to compute the prizes of eggs and other consumer items as it is a requirement as duties and functions of the Consumer affairs Authority. 8 (f) carry out investigations/9 undertake studies/12 determine standards/20 investigate into/18/19/20 research are provisions on research available probably not utilized in a proper way.

Egg Mafia

There are allegations of monopoly of egg mafia based on cartels monopolising the trade and production over the ordinary egg producers struggling to rise in the trade. Egg mafia they say consists of four companies head by a rich group with political and financial backgrounds as business leaders. 50% SMEs are struggling to have their share of 300,000 full production and the main four groups are using various methods and tactics to disturb the movement of products by influencing the governance to import products in the guise of bringing down the prizes to disturb the movement of the market. Fortunately  this episode have become an eye opener to the governance and the market leaders for a new thinking considering all other areas and circumstances in the field of consumerism as a whole. As a result the law makers have new plans and thinking for new ways of production and marketing to cater the producers and the consumer as well during the time of crisis.

Keep pace with the modern trends and changes

World is changing fast and consumerism world over is developing at the same pace with modern digital platforms invading the world with online trade and e-business Sri Lanka has become an active member due to the computer literacy of the citizen which is high and mobile penetration of 110% with mobile phones in every household younger generation has changed the outlook of the social fabric with demands and expectations with increased use of bank cards, online and international transactions with EBay Emerson and many platforms by educated young has shown the need for changes to keep pace on  law, practice and general consumerism that has still not  initiated or touched by the regulator CAA nor the Governance, which is a sorry affair. It is time the governance, Ministry of Trade, Industries, and other relevant institutions to come to terms to keep pace with changes before collapse for want of changes. It is an irony that the governance has even not though of any changes for changes on the consumer law, consumer affairs authority, trade law, competition law  company law IT and other areas that needs drastic changes.

The responsibilities of the regulator (CAA) for the consumer and societies at large

It is the policy of the government of Sri Lanka to provide for the better protection of the consumer through the regulation of trade and prices of gods and services and to protect traders and manufactures against unfair trade practices and restrict trade practices. This is very interesting and important. It is the primary duty of the governance to protect the consumer by regulations and also to protect the trader and manufacturer as well in the process is a balancing process on trade promotions rather than a consumer protecting as in the UK or India where there is special and strong legislation to protect the consumer. Therefore it is timey is Sri Lanka too to difference ate this carefully as in the UK system we had before that was abolished by act no 9 0f 2003 when the abolished legislation is still growing in UK successfully with modern changes blended with Europe Law.

Way forward on the Egg issue in Sri Lanka

There is no easy way out unless the main legislation is completely changed by introducing a new act as suggested by the previous chairman of CAA who appear to have drafted a new act meeting the new demands changes and modern aspirations with modern challenges. Until such time it is important to appoint a strong academic /professional team for the immediate challenges/needs and change of the CAA act completely as a matter of urgency.  Until it is done it will be a non-starter and issues/problems will continue. But as a temporary measure it is a good idea to revisit the CAA as a temporary measure to meet the modern demands and challenges on modern digital and online developments the CAA is still not conversant with and not looked into. At the same time the attitude and thinking of the CAA staff is to be considered to meet the modern challenges which are hard to achieve without innovative approaches based on practical approaches that are practices in other jurisdictions successfully. We are also made to understand that the draft of a new consumer act is already drafted by a previous Chairman still not made use of with necessary modifications to suit the modern challenges based on the digital age and the new developments. It is time to start new fresh keeping pace with modern trends. Sarathdw28@gmail.com Reading materials by the author Lanka Web 12/4/21 digitalization and modernization Colombo Telegraph 2/1/23   Price Control and regulatory powers.

Sarath Wijesinghe President’s Counsel

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