By Bandula Sirimanna
The welfare of consumers is to be ensured through a proposed national consumer welfare policy, being introduced for the first time in Sri Lanka. In an interview with Business Times, Senior Minister S.B. Nawinna, who has been assigned the subject of consumer welfare and is preparing this policy, said the main aim of this initiative is to strengthen the consumers by educating them about their rights and introducing new legislation through all relevant ministries to protect these rights.
In the present socio economic situation in the country, the consumer is a victim of many unfair and unethical practices adopted in the market place, he said "The other area is advertising promises we see in the media which needs regulation," he added. In some instances, the consumer faces unfair treatment when seeking service from public or private institutions.
The consumer is regularly cheated in the quality, quantity and price of the goods or services. The national policy framework will address all these issues, he said. It is now being prepared obtaining views and proposals from all stakeholders on matters relating to consumer interest handled by different ministries, he revealed. The public will also be consulted before finalising the policy after seeking suggestions of university professors, experts on consumer affairs and other relevant authorities, he said.
Under the consumer-first perspective, the government's ministries have been grouped into eight strategic areas such as food, health, education and human resources, transport, housing and infrastructure facilities, government services and good governance and social welfare. As an initial step, all secretaries of these ministries have been informed about the process of policy formulation and coordinating officers were appointed to represent the respective ministries.
He said every ministry related to consumer affairs directly or indirectly will have to play a prominent role to implement this policy A number of sectoral meetings were held with ministerial coordinators and Mr Navinna's unit plans to finalise the first draft strategic reports by the end of this month.
The unit is in the process of evaluating proposals received from several of these relevant ministries, and it will seek views and suggestions of the private sector, consumer co-operative societies, professionals and intellectuals to devise the national policy on consumer welfare so that concerns of consumers are addressed systematically by all stakeholders. "It would ensure the stakeholders are more responsive to the needs of consumers," Mr Navinna said. The policy of the government is to protect consumers through the regulation of trade and the prices of goods and services. On the other hand public and private sector employees should fulfill their responsibilities and serve consumers with courtesy and in a fair manner, he added.
Stringent punishment should be prescribed by law so that manufacturers and traders as well as public and private sector employees handling consumer affairs would be reluctant to adopt fraudulent practices, he said. These laws and regulations will be formulated by relevant ministries in accordance with the national policy, he disclosed.
Sri Lankan consumer protection activism remains weak because of a lack of awareness often leaves consumers vulnerable to the lobbying power of big business and utilities, he said. The national policy will help strengthen consumer protection activism, he added.