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Sunday, 22 March 2015

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Not many Sri Lankan consumers know they have Rights:

Help line Consumer Affairs Authority 24- hour-hotline 1977:

Duped, deceived and sold a dud

Everyone is a consumer. But last Sunday's (March 15) World Consumer Rights Day commemorated in muted style, showcased how ignorant the so-called kings of the common market are, especially about their rights that could and will safeguard them from being duped, deceived and sold a dud. And just how ignorant the consumers are, was revealed in an impromptu survey carried out by the Sunday Observer last week, when a cross section of society admitted rather unabashedly they knew nothing about consumer rights. This despite legal access to rectify complaints of sub-standard consumer products and unfair trading practices being in place, through the Consumer Affairs Authority Act, for the past 30 years.

 

 

Not surprisingly, not many were aware that an authority, the Consumer Affairs Authority (CAA) which could legally protect them against any form of exploitation by unscrupulous traders, actually existed and had its main office is in the heart of the metropolis of Colombo.

Ananda Kumar a young trishaw driver and father of two young children said he had never heard of such an Act, but welcomed it nonetheless. "I must have passed this particular office hundreds of times without even knowing what it was or that it could protect our rights as consumers. Now that I know, I will make it a point to go there personally if ever I or my neighbours have any complaints to make over any of our future purchases", he said.

Faulty items

Asked if he had ever been confronted with the problem of having discovered that some item he had purchased had been faulty or not met with the required standards claimed by the trader, he replied, "How would I know anything about standards, when I'm totally illiterate. I can neither read nor write although I can speak Sinhala and Tamil well. But I do remember a day when my mother who was a road sweeper, brought home a badly dented sardine tin. The contents were spoiled but we were so hungry we ate the fish and fell sick after that. Another time the electric bulb we had just bought fused and we had to spend the night under candlelight.

If we knew we could complain about this to the vendor or an Authority such as the Consumer Affairs Authority, we would have done so as we desperately needed to get back our hard-earned money for our next meal. But no one ever told us we had this means of re-dress, until now".

Being illiterate, he believes, has made him more vulnerable than his literate counterparts when purchasing a product.

"Take for example the labels on a tin of sardines or any other food product . Having labels on products are useless for people who can't read or write like myself. How can I know what they say when I can't read them? It is better to have this information given in the form of pictures which is easy not only for us but for people who have mental disabilities".

Nimal a computer analyst also confessed being ignorant about the Consumer Protection Act said, "Last week I went to a shop in Kotahena to buy a tyre for my motorcycle. The trader told me the tyre was new but refused to give me a receipt . When I developed a tear in the tyre after two days, I discovered it was a re-treaded tyre. When I went back to demand my money from the trader he refused after insisting I should have shown him a receipt. Now I know better. I will always insist on a receipt or bill because of the useful information you have passed on that I can now appeal and have legal redress against these unfair traders who cheat us." he said.

A kilo of rice

Objectives of Consumer Protection

Given the importance of the Consumer Protection Act, here is a brief summary of its objectives

* To protect consumers against the marketing of goods or provision of services which are hazardous to life and property of consumers.

* To protect consumers against unfair trade practices .

* To seek redress against unfair trade practices , restrictive practices or any other forms of exploitation of consumers by traders.

* To ensure that wherever possible consumers have adequate access to goods and services at competitive prices.

* The Authority is responsible for the protection of the consumer by issuing general directions to manufacturers or traders in respect of labelling, price marking m, packaging , sale or manufacture of any goods .

* Every direction issued by the Authority is published in the Gazette in at least one Sinhala, one Tamil and one English news paper.

* Any manufacturer or trader who fails to comply with any direction issued shall be guilty of an offence under the CAA Act. Any person who removes, alters, obliterates , erases or defaces any label , description or price mark on any goods shall also be guilty of an offence.

* A complaint relating to the sale of any goods or provision of service should be made to the Authority in writing within three months of the sale of such goods or provision of such services. The complaints should be forwarded to the address given below:

No 27, Vauxhall Street, Colombo 2.

Neville Perera, a 65-year-old trishaw driver admitted he had never heard that there was an Act that could protect his rights as a consumer until the Sunday Observer enlightened him. This is inspite of the fact that he has studied upto the GCE O.Level and reads the newspapers with avid interest.

"Last week my wife bought a kilo of rice which had stones and sand, and the spices she bought from a boutique in Piliyandala also had been adulterated. As the trader refused to give back her money she simply threw it all away. I wish we had known about this Act then we could have complained and got back our money," she said. When we informed him that a complaint could be lodged with the Authority which entertained complaints upto a period of three months, he said he would consider the matter. Finding time to take her all the way to Colombo is my problem as driving this three wheeler is a full time job", he said.

Renuka Samanmali, a houswife from Neluwa, didn't know about the Act either. But being constantly advised by her husband, she said she was prevented from being duped by unscrupulous traders simply because she made it a point to read the labels on every product carefully before purchasing them. "I even read the expiry dates on every yoghurt cup I buy for the family. This information will be useful to me in the future" she said.

Pathma Perera, a septugenarian housewife was one of the few exceptions who confessed she was already aware of the Consumer Protection Act. A retired teacher at St Anne's, Wattala, she said, " Both me and my husband were aware of such an Act, but we didn't know much about it. Nor did we have the address of the Authority in case we wished to make a complaint.

Leaking K'oil cooker

But now that we have this information we can make good use of it . You see, my sister who lives with us, recently bought an expensive large kerosene cooker. But in a day it began to leak. When this happened she took it back to the trader and asked for a replacement after producing the receipt.

But he refused to take it back or refund the money. Since we didn't know what to do, the stove has been put aside in our garage. If we can get some kind of redress from the Authority we will be grateful", she said.

An elderly gentleman who said he was a former university lecturer gave us perhaps the most enlightened approach to the subject when he raised the following pertinent questions:, "To have so many laws to protect the consumer is no doubt beneficial. But the BIG question is ; Are they being implemented? Who is monitoring them? Does the CAA have enough personnel and inspectors to visit every wholesale and retail consumer outlet in the island to see if their goods are upto the standard?

We now see an increasing number of sub quality goods being uncovered in recent raids including harmful toxic ingredients in the food we eat.

I read recently that the number of people injured or dead due to faulty electrical gadgets is on the rise. We can't expect the CAA to do everything. The public must also act responsibly. In my opinion, the solution lies in our hands. If the public makes a collective effort to read labels, check ingredients and expiry dates, before a purchase this would go a long way in protecting our rights. Those who already know there is an Act that protects them, should also make it their business to spread this message.

Parents should teach children about consumer rights at home and teachers should do it at school. It is then that this day will be a meaningful one."

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