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Sri Lanka’s laws to protect consumer rights inadequate: Eran

11 November 2015 03:11 am - 0     - {{hitsCtrl.values.hits}}

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  • Inadequate emphasis in current legislation on consumer rights and right to information
  • CAA’s ability to enforce compromised by weak regulatory governance
  • CAA Act of 2003 had not presented CAA officials with investigative and punitive tools

By Chandeepa Wettasinghe
The country’s laws to protect consumer rights are inadequate and the Consumer Affairs Authority (CAA) must listen to the voice of the people, the Public Enterprise Development Deputy Minister said at the Sri Lanka Economic Association Annual Sessions.

“The critical issue is that there is inadequate emphasis in current legislation in the areas of consumer rights and right to information. We need broader consumer rights, the right to be heard and right to be informed of all levels of performance in consumer goods and services,” Eran Wickramaratne said.

Mirror Business recently reported that Consumer International too criticized the lack of consumer protection and the CAA’s unwillingness to listen to the voice of the people.

“At procedural level, CAA’s ability to enforce is compromised by weak regulatory governance, and the subversion of principals of workable independence, transparency, accountability and predictability,” Wickramaratne said.

He said that the CAA Act of 2003, which established the authority, had not presented CAA officials with the investigative and punitive tools required to enforce consumer protection either.

“Sri Lanka had broader antitrust provisions until 2003, through the Fair Trading Commission Act of 1987 and consumer protection provisions through the Consumer Protection Act of 1979. However, these pieces of legislation were repealed with the enactment of the 2003 law,” he added.

Wickramaratne was commenting after President Maithripala Sirisena said that the country has fallen victim to non-communicable diseases, with 22 percent of the population malnourished, and 18 percent of the urban population and 15 percent of the rural population ailing from diabetes.

Over 80 percent of the population dies through such non-communicable diseases. In other countries, the entire nutritional profile of all food and drinks must be published, placing the responsibility on an educated customer.

Wickramaratne said that according to the CAA Act, the CAA must regulate a wide range of practices related to exploitative business practices, pricing and competitiveness, consumer health and quality of service.

“But what actually happens in practice is that they engage in the pricing of goods and services to the exclusion of everything else,” he said.
Even the pricing is done through the Census and Statistics Department—in the case of commodities—and other government bodies. For example, when the global milk prices fell last year, local prices remained three times higher, victimizing the average Sri Lankan. When contacted, the CAA had said that it was the responsibility of the Customs Department.

There are occasional reports of the CAA conducting raids on expired commodities, but the frequency of raids had stepped down to a fraction when the political front of the country went into turmoil.

The fines arising from such raids fell to Rs.13.63 million from January to April 2015, compared to Rs.24.19 million for the same period in 2014. Information since April has not been published.Wickramaratne suggested that government service providers too want to engage in practices which damage the consumer.

“There’s somewhat of a level playing field for private sector, but we get requests from competing government sector bodies to somehow or the other to exempt them from those regulations,” he said.

The CAA Act was brought in during the United National Party regime. However, Wickramaratne had not entered politics at that time.
 
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