More ombudsmen, the need of the hour - Dr. Weerasooria
Consumer rights activists said the Consumer Affairs Authority (CAA)
Act should be amended without further delay and more ombudsmen should be
appointed to ensure the welfare of consumers.
Insurance Ombudsman, Dr. Wickrema Weerasooria told a forum organised
by the Institute of Policy Studies (IPS) last week to mark World
Consumer Rights Day that the CAA should be renamed as Consumer Affairs
and Trade Practices Commission, like the best model in Australia and
this Commission should comprise members appointed by the Constitutional
In other words, to elevate consumer affairs and trade practices with
subjects such as the police and franchise which concerns all.
He said the CAA Act should be similar to the Trade Practices Act in
Australia which revolutionised the law relating to consumer matters and
trade practices. This will provide more teeth to the Commission and free
it from political interference.
He said Section 52 of the Trade Practices Act states, a company could
be brought before court for misleading or deceptive conduct. Similarly,
Section 30 of the CAA Act categorically states a businessmen or a trader
could be brought before court.
It also says no trader shall in the course of trade engage in any act
that is likely to deceive consumers.
The Trade Practices Act provides protection for consumers who conduct
transactions with corporations or the State.
All States and Territories have mirrored many of the consumer
protection provisions in the Trade Practices Act in their fair trading
A person who suffers loss or damage as a result of a breach of the
consumer protection provisions of the Trade Practices Act may recover
damages for that loss.
He said there should be more ombudsman schemes to ensure fair trade
and justice to consumers. There should be an ombudsman for all private
hospitals, utility services such as water and electricity to address the
grievances of consumers. They should be appointed without taxing the
Consolidated Fund. Such a person is vital, to listen to the problems of
consumers and mete out justice to them.
“It is women who should give leadership to consumer affairs because
they understand household matters better than men,” Dr. Weerasooria
Former CAA Chairman Sarath Wijesinghe said the CAA Act should be
amended to provide proper leadership and more powers should be vested on
it to be an active body to safeguard the rights and welfare of
He said consumer organisations must exert pressure on the CAA to play
a more vibrant role taking a cue from consumers in the UK, who brought a
beverage company down to its knees for using water from River Thames.
Former US President John F. Kennedy said consumers are the most
neglected sector in society.
“The consumer, though said to be a king, is often taken for a ride by
The CAA is not active as the watchdog of consumer rights. A large
volume of the water in the Kelani river, which is used for consumption
is polluted due to contamination caused by a beverage company. The
sharks in the trade get away using influence but not the small
polluters,” Wijesinghe said. He said the world is heading for disaster
due to the excessive use of antibiotics.
Unless steps are taken against this epidemic, the world will face the
danger of fast reaching the post antibiotic era soon.
Around 50 percent of the antibiotics used in agriculture come to the
table through supply chains. There are around 100,000 mega restaurants
operating worldwide. Food in many of them is said to be adulterated.
“Estimates reveal that around 10 percent of the population in Sri
Lanka are diabetic and the number of kidney patients is growing by
around 5,000 each year. We must have checks and balances in place.
However, food chains will not stop producing junk food due to greed. Sri
Lankans are prisoners of junk food due to the use of credit cards,” he
Executive Director, IPS, Dr. Saman Kalegama stressed the importance
of safeguarding the consumer’s right to safety, right to be informed,
right to choose and the right to be heard which was outlined by former
US President John F. Kennedy. “Consumer rights is generally about
addressing the power balance between the consumer and the retailer.
“Invariably, the retailer is more informed than the consumer.
Consumers must be aware of their rights and the potential force they
represent,” Dr. Kelegama said. He said consumers cannot keep track of
the manufacturing process of every item. Standardisation is vital to
enable consumers gauge the quality of what they consume.