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Sunday, 15 March 2009

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World Consumer Rights Day falls today:

Sri Lanka far ahead in South Asian region - CAC Chairman



Attorney-at-Law and Chairman of the Consumer Affairs Council, Upali Senaratne.

In Sri Lanka, this day is celebrated under the patronage of the Ministry of Trade, Marketing Development, Cooperatives and Consumer Services. It is an occasion to remind ourselves, as consumers, about the rights we inherit due to the fact of being ‘consumers’.

It is also a time to renew the pledge of protecting the rights of consumers from market abuse, exploitation and other various injustices. Unfortunately there is a tendency, mainly borne out of ignorance, to ignore the importance of ‘consumer rights’ today.

This is a great peril which we all should overcome.Senior Attorney-at-Law and Chairman of the Consumer Affairs Council (CAC) Upali Senaratne contacted by the `Sunday Observer’ for his views for the ‘World Consumer Rights Day’ said that the Council, established pursuant to the Consumer Affairs Authority Act of 2003, is the principal body which hears and determines all applications and references made concerning the protection of consumers under the Act.

It also functions as a higher body entrusted with the power to review decisions of the Consumer Affairs Authority (CAA), which is another vital organisation established under the Act.

The CAC Chairman, Upali Senaratne, in laying out the importance of the Consumer Rights Day highlighted the significance of late President John F. Kennedy’s special message to the Congress on `Protecting Consumer Interest’, on March 15, 1962, wherein he stated:- “Consumers, by definition, include us all.

They are the largest economic group, affecting and affected by almost every public and private economic decision. Yet they are the only important group... whose views are often not heard.”

Noting the importance of protecting consumers and the broader implications of doing so, Chairman Senaratne quoted the message which stated:- “If the consumer is unable to choose on an informed basis, then his dollar is wasted, his health and safety may be threatened, and the national interest suffers’. President Kennedy went on to list safety, information, choice and the right to be heard, as fundamental rights of the consumer, he added.

Referring to the broader international framework that is in place to promote consumer rights Mr. Senaratne mentioned the importance of, inter alia, the UN Guidelines for Consumer Profession (as expanded in 1999) and the role and function of the Consumers International, founded in 1960, which is a world federation of consumer groups which collaborated as an independent and authoritative global voice for consumers.

This has the official representation of important international organizations such as the UN Economic and Social Council, World Health Organisation (WHO) and also the UN Conference on Trade and Development (UNCTAD).

On the steps taken by Sri Lanka concerning the protection of consumer rights, Mr. Senaratne stated that the country is one of the few countries in the South Asian region which has done much to protect the consumers, through numerous legislative enactments and other measures. In this regard, the Consumer Affairs Authority Act of 2003 was an important development in the recent history of consumer protectionism in Sri Lanka.

The Act provides for the protection of consumers against the marketing of hazardous goods/services, against unfair trade practices, and strives to ensure that consumers have adequate access to goods/services at competitive prices and are able to seek redress against unfair and restrictive trade practices.

The functions and responsibilities of the Consumer Affairs Authority and the Consumer Affairs Council are directed towards these purposes. However, further in this regard, Mr. Senaratne stated that it is important to note that the Act provides for the protection of traders and manufacturers as well.

Such protection is also facilitated through the provisions of the Act which aim at protecting competitive pricing to ensure healthy competition among traders and manufacturers of goods and services.

Mr. Senaratne made special reference to the measures taken by the Government concerning the promotion and protection of consumer rights, and of the direction and guidance shown by the Minister Bandula Gunawardena.

The Council has started the conduct of inquiries relating to complaints made by consumers, especially on anti-competitive trading practices. Mr. Senaratne also mentioned that around seventy five percent of the cases before the Council has already been disposed of during a short time span of around one month.

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