As much as consumers need to be vigilant and informed about their rights, it is the duty of law enforcement agencies to keep spurious practices adopted by companies in check. It is the responsibility of the government to ensure the safety of the public by controlling the many businesses that violate consumer rights.
During the launching of the book titled ‘Paaribhogika Aythiyata Janatha Magak,’ authored by National Movement of Consumer Rights Protection President Ranjith Vithanage to mark the Consumer Rights Day, this serious concern was taken up by former Human Rights Commissioner and Rights Activist Dr. Prathiba Mahanamahewa, Bodu Bala Sena (BBS) CEO Dilanthe Vithanage and former PRECIFAC Secretary Lacille De Silva. They discussed how consumers have been ignored and why. The book raises awareness among consumers about how they have been ignored by consecutive governments and stakeholders, and provides information on how to act and react in such situations.
“CAA has failed to protect consumer rights”
- Dr. Prathiba Mahanamahewa Former Human Rights Commissioner and Rights Activist
Former Human Rights Commissioner and Rights Activist Prathiba Mahanamahewa acknowledged that consumers have been ignored even on the World Consumer Day.
“The Consumer Affairs Authority (CAA) has failed to protect consumer rights. In Sri Lanka, we witness several issues aimed at consumers, and the main one is the government postponing local government elections -- a foremost right of consumers. The government and the Elections Commission are ignoring it. The consumers must unanimously fight for the preservation of laws that govern consumer rights. Also, illegal maritime fishing by Indian fishermen in Sri Lankan waters is a long-standing issue the government has not yet resolved,” he said.
“On the one hand, traders have been violating consumer rights, and on the other, relevant government authorities instituted to administer such affairs have failed to take apt and stringent measures against those traders.
"At a time when the entire world is discussing about building a digital world trusted by consumers, we in Sri Lanka have failed even to protect basic consumer rights"
“At a time when the entire world is discussing about building a digital world trusted by consumers, we in Sri Lanka have failed even to protect basic consumer rights. A consumer has the right to receive an acknowledgment for a paid service. Although people receive receipts for services today, they are unable to lodge a proper complaint in case there were faults in the service. The government has given priority for companies and not consumers. Government and non-governmental institutions that continue to violate consumer rights only see the mistakes committed by the consumers. The need of the hour is for consumers to voice their concerns,” Dr. Mahanamahewa said.
“All dealings should abide by the law”
- Dilanthe Vithanage Bodu Bala SenaCEO
Bodu Bala Sena (BBS) CEO Dilanthe Vithanage said the society needed to build a digital world that consumers could trust.
“Compared to other countries in the world, the place given for consumer rights in Sri Lanka is far below average. Other countries constantly investigate and verify if the entities elected to protect consumer rights abide by the Rule of Law.
“If consumers’ complaints are found to be genuine, then strict action is taken against the particular business and the judiciary may order it to compensate the victim. However, this is not the practice in Sri Lanka. CAA, the main regulatory body in this context, should guide the consumers as well as the businesses. State authorities should ensure that all dealings in this process abide by the law. They need to be responsive to all types of queries. The consumers should urge the relevant authorities to enact digital consumer rights protection laws as the country is driven in the wrong direction in protecting consumer rights. The consumers in Sri Lanka remain disheartened to the point they are left to think twice on the guidance provided by CAA.
"Compared to other countries in the world, the place given for consumer rights in Sri Lanka is far below average"
“The internet has changed the lifestyle of people. The society has adapted to new technologies. Many companies use their own databases to spam consumers through emails, which is ethically wrong. Government authorities should be aware of these malpractices. If not, the general public will be misled. “During the previous regime, we formulated a consumer protection policy by adding key fields including education, healthcare, food and transport that are directly applicable to consumers. But, with the ‘Yahapalana’ government coming to power, this policy has been sidelined. Today, the government authorities treat consumers like slaves,” Mr. Vithanage said.
“Ministers lavishly spending public funds”
- Lacille De Silva Former PRECIFAC Secretary
Former PRECIFAC Secretary Lacille De Silva said lack of proper economic behaviour resulted in consumer ignorance.
“A UN report stated that the allowances obtained by ministers couldn’t be increased above 7%. But, unfortunately, the allowances obtained by the Cabinet ministers in Sri Lanka have soared to some 30-40%. Although ministers are not supposed to obtain allowances for their vehicles and for the maintenance of their premises, the ones in our country lavishly spend public funds for their personal use.
“On the other hand, students are not seen actively involved in educational activities and the hospitals keep running out of medicine,” he said.
"students are not seen actively involved in educational activities and the hospitals keep running out of medicine"
Mr. De Silva said lack of knowledge on rights and duties and the dearth of resources to pursue them were a few among the numerous challenges faced by consumers. Consumer rights that were limited to safety, information, choice and the right to be heard, have now progressed to rights to satisfaction of basic need, consumer education, redress and rights to a healthier environment. He emphasized the need for an effective mechanism for consumer protection.