Digitisation and modernising trade business and consumerism for the citizen | Sunday Observer

Digitisation and modernising trade business and consumerism for the citizen

18 April, 2021

The World is fast changing despite the dangerous Covid-19 pandemic, leading Sri Lanka towards success through education on Vistas of prosperity and spender in order to digitalise the system and modernise the natural knowledge based on human capital to suit the 21st century on the theme ’Towards a perfect education that enriches wisdom and experiment’ on steps taken by the program and vision of President Gotabaya Rajapaksa.

Introducing new platforms and programs coupled with education, development and other subjects including trade and international issues- a leap frog from this program for the future.

It is salutary news that Sri Lanka is keeping pace with the modern developments even during the festive season easing citizens pressurised with pandemic and economic hardships due to economic downturns around the world. It is indeed salutary that digitalisation and modern international platforms are utilised in combating ‘Covid-19’ and development strategies including in agriculture which is the topic of the article today.

The festive season and prices of consumer items

The festive season is here and the talk of the town is the prices of consumer items and the legal framework which has not still been settled on trade, business, competition and prices of items in demand.

There was a news item by Minister Bandula Gunawardena that the Consumer Protection Act of 1979 will be amended when in fact it is repealed by the Consumer Affairs Authority Act no 9 of 2003, on March 17 2003 with other existing legislation amalgamating the current act which is a combination of Australian, Canadian modelled system with basic English principles partly embodied in the act and not a properly effective piece of legislation in action today.

It is the duty of officials to brief the Minister on updates on legislature when making such important public statements which are the basis of current and future changes on legislature, when the Minister again claims to change current old and outdated legal structure to be proactive, modern and applicable for the current developments.

The Minister has quite correctly stated that the current legislation is outdated and is a ’toothless lion’ needing drastic changes and vigour with modern changes on the digital age with new international platforms and developments in line with the changes happening world over.

Act No 9 of 2003 changed the existing pattern and structure of successful concept of price control still in force in the United Kingdom to the current system of regulations of trade also based on competition law and modern commercial law concepts, which has not yet been understood by successive regimes that attempted to implement the concept introduced by Lalith Athulathmudali, then Minister of Trade who introduced the legislation with the best of intentions which was unfortunately unsuccessful on implementation.

Undisputedly, change of the CAA Act is badly needed and the CAA during successive Chairmen have attempted to do so with no success.

Drastic changes necessary

This is not the time for immediate major changes of the law, and the best is to give time for a complete and comprehensive study in the law and practice with international trade and developments which are now interwoven. What is news today is the controversy over coconut oil, paddy and rice prices, alleged sugar scam, and rising cost of living due to price rise of every consumer item that CAA has miserably failed to answer.

How the price structure operates in Sri Lanka is very interesting. Trader can sell at any reasonable price provided if it is of good quality and of quality health standards in order to provide the price mark is exhibited on the show room cage for the citizen to clearly see, whereas under the previous legislation control of prices Act 173 (which is repealed) price mark was strictly adhered to on conditions on price control legislation with price control system.

Then what is the maximum price? In the current price regime and the fluctuation of the prices of paddy, rice, sugar, coconut etc are issues confronted by the consumer which is bit hard to understand to follow. It is operative under S/18 of the act when the Minister and the Authority can determine the wholesale and retail price if the consumer item by a Gazette notification with the condition of 18(2).

No manufacturer or trader shall increase the retail for wholesale price of any goods of and services specified under subsection (1) except with the prior written approval of the authority. This is not effective or straight as the price control procedure which is working well in UK which is repealed here in 1979.

Attempts have been made to change the consumer law on previous occasions and today we have to be extra cautious due to the modern trends, introduction of new international platforms and changes due to digitalisation process which is ever growing with the mobile penetration of 100 per cent of the population and the developments on the knowledge an practice on learning when village children climbed water tanks for WIFI and the villager got used to WhatsApp for the payment of water and electricity bills through the network of computer centres at every junction.

A good trend ever increasing indeed! We have to take note of all international trends and changes in framing if any legislation or rules on consumerism in future, School teachers conducted online classes with the help of their computer literate children - our future scientists.

No end to Covid- 19 soon

Covid-19 has changed the entire marketing developments and life of the ordinary citizen including students and the working class. There is no guarantee that the Covid-19 will end or a timeframe to end thereby we have to live on hopes and be prepared for any eventuality, so that future planning is near impossible.

Sri Lankans proved themselves to be adoptable to any adverse conditions or situations when facing Covid- 19 and hardships as consumers. Prices of consumer items are going up with it in addition to many other considerations which effects the consumer in all fronts, with food being the main consideration.

Food that is available should be reasonably priced and of quality as required by Section 7 (a) (b) (c) and (d) which states that it is the duty of the Authority to see that consumer is provided with goods and services not hazardous to the consumers (Section 4) protect against unfair trade practices, adequate access to goods and provide redress against exploitation.

All this has to be implemented by regulatory powers in part two of the Act. Anti-competitive practices are dealt with in the Consumer Affairs Council also engaged in research and procedure on air trade practices.

Covid- 19 also has melded the attitudes of the citizen with better relations with the trader consumer, and the regulator, for the trader and industrialist to be fair and the consumer to be smart, sharp and careful to have the ideal combination of fair trader, alert consumer and able regulator.

The consumer must change his/her attitude to be simple and smart to ascertain a) when to purchase, b) where to purchase and how to purchase items available. Consumer items to be purchased with required quantities and well planned for the day or week giving priority to health and quality.

Fruits should not be purchased from long term stalls and imported fruits and vegetables should be avoided when we have such great verities, for example Banana in UK has only one variety which is available with not much taste when we have so many varietes at very reasonable of taste and quality.

Fresh vegetables and fruits could be purchased cheap in markets. Cola should not be consumed at any cost, which is poisons and expensive. Why consume bottled water in plastics bottles which can be poisonous and unhealthy, when we can have boiled and cold water in glass bottles which is cheap and healthy.

When you purchase consumer items it is worthy to note the best would be Sathosa. When non-perishables can be stored and it is a good idea for the family to plan out the week or month as an exercise to save and be healthy. During online purchase can be practiced which can extended to clothes and other consumer items for convenience and safety.

Now that the entire lifestyle has changed due to Covid-19, it is time to be prepared to go through it for an unspecified period with changes of future plans. Needless to state that all precautionary measures are to be followed to the last word for a long-term solution and a healthy, stable and happy life with the family.

Bogus sales, congestion and presents to family

The consumer should be aware of rights, duties and the expectations from the trader and the industrialist. It is the duty of the trader to give the consumer dignity, quality goods, and services at a reasonable price indicated on the rack or the showcase.

The consumer has the right to complain to the CAA or a branch office which you will have access form 1919 system, or personal complain to the CAA office or a branch.

Telephone and written complaints are accepted and the CAA is prompt on complaints by the consumer who the CAA and the trader considers as top priority.

Consumer need not be hesitant to question or complain and it can be done in a friendly manner as it is your right to do so. Bogus sales are plenty and the consumer should use common sense in purchasing very cheap items with hidden charges.

It is advisable to take your own time in selecting the goods as it is your money that you are parting with. Consumer should know the basic needs, rights and duties and expectations from the trader to be a satisfied consumer.

When you purchase electric and electronic items one should be careful of the make, quality and the condition you may not be conversant with when you have to be careful on the warranty documents/cards and specially the paragraphs in small letters in a language not known to you.

It is advisable to demand for a receipt for which you are entitled to and you can request more details on the receipt. Some traders will encourage you to give on credit on hire purchase schemes, and you should be careful in signing documents on conditions with small letters or in a language not known to you, and giving your personal information.

It is advisable to seek the advice of a known family member generally conversant with trade practices. Always ask for the visiting card and other details of the trader and trading names with contact numbers. It is a joint effort of trader, consumer, regulator, and industrialist for a better consumer regime and a fair-trading regime.

Especially during the festive season be extremely careful of the 8000 drug addicts on the road in Colombo waiting for preys which can be dangerous. Always be in touch with security forces and loved ones during exposure to the traders and public.

Quality of consumer items and consumer organisations

The trader is bound to give items of quality to the consumer and finding the quality is always an issue unless it is tested by the standard bureau or tests by a group of consumers.

It is imperative for the consumers to be a member of one or more consumer organisations which is very forceful in other parts of the world. In the United Kingdom, the consumer organisations are very powerful and the trader is obliged to be consumer friendly based on the famous adage that consumer does no wrong and always correct.

Consumer Affairs Authority is expected to assist, monitor and encourage consumer organisations as powerful groups though less powerful compared to UK and other parts of the world.

Then what about the rice prices, adulterated coconut oil, consumer items of inferior quality, and hiding a storing the consumer items refusing to sale are offence for prosecution.

In UK and the West, the returned items are accepted but sadly not in Sri Lanka, when you can exchange it and when you need to change or return. Consumer organisations should agitate for this right with the help of CAA.

Modern trends on trade practices

The quality of goods, services of food and consumer items are substandard, and of inferior quality due to lack of supervision and regulation by the CAA and other regulators such as TRCEL insurance, and Trade Ombudsman, public health inspectors, local councils, health department, and many statutory bodies.

With advancement of technology Sri Lankans are at the doorsteps of digitalisation with mobile phones in everybody’s hand (100 percent of the population) and computer literacy of 40 percent that is ever increasing? Younger generation is now armed with excellent computer skills and able to use credit cards, advanced banking methods, and engaged in modern technology via face book and other social media platforms for day-to-day office with computer centres at every corner on the road used by the adults.

However, in Sri Lanka online shopping is not practiced often as in the United Kingdom where 40 per cent of the consumer items are purchased online when the practice is being fast used in Sri Lanka too.

Sri Lanka appears to be ready for a leap frog with the advanced applicability of modern technology and day to day transactions and day will not be too far when the majority of the population makes its purchases online.

‘Uber’ a worldwide digital application is catering to millions of people worldwide including Sri Lanka. These technologies are expanding to blow drying to food chains when majority of consumer population purchases online.

‘Uber’ - a main digital application catering to millions of customers worldwide including Sri Lanka these techs are expanding to bring blow drying and food items to door steps which will revolutionise online purchasing further.

Digitalisation of education has commenced by setting digital classrooms which equips students and teachers with laptops and tabs. How do you make digital regimes fairer in Sri Lanka with outdated regulator CAA with fast developments on technology? We watched on the television an impressive digital classroom at ‘Thurstan College’ and we understand the trend is fast spreading. Are we in the digital age or in the door steps are the issues to be resolved today.

Digitalisation in the world is fast spreading with adverse effects shedding billions of jobs with no strategy from the state and the leaders of the private sector to find alternate arrangements to use them as innovators as in Israel.

The digital marketplaces are thriving in the West which has a foothold in Sri Lanka and the potential is very interestingly limited changes of lifestyles due to innovative changes making life easier. However, these changes include the risk of health other unexpected and undesirable changes in the economy.

Will Sri Lanka be affected by the ripple effect or to what extent it will invade Sri Lanka is a matter of time Digitalisation developments depend on the vision considering the mobile and internet user are young.

Experts predict saturated digital market in Sri Lanka in 10 years with innovative smart cities in line with Israel Hong Kong and UAE when 40 percent of the global population is online with 750 million global internet users, Sri Lanka will be finding it difficult to join the world out of necessity ad compulsion. Chinese multinational company ‘Alibaba’ started by an English Teacher in Hangzhou is the biggest retailer with 100 British brands and with 440 million active clients which is also protected by the UK government could be considered as a guide line for our digital introduction.

It is time to encourage and promote our young entrepreneurs with the vision in the Israel youth on innovation taking them up to the world standards on innovation.

Dhammika Perera, who is supposed to be the richest man in Sri Lanka who bought ‘Singer’ recently said in Colombo that he has increased the business of Singer by 38 percent after taking over and introducing online business and has observed that online trend was settling to a mixture of online and storage stores worldwide, again indicating the uncertainty of world business trends at successive speed.

Challenges and way forward

Digitalisation, modernisation, trade and consumerism are interconnected and interwoven with one another in the present context, connected and depending on each other. Trade and consumerism is a part and parcel of the life and digitalisation and modernisation are complementary.

The world is ever changing with challenges, especially with Covid-19 pandemic when village bravely faced by using WhatsApp to make payments, children climbed water tanks for WIFI and teachers were guided and trained by children for distance teaching on line are proof that Sri Lanka and Sri Lankans are adoptable to any challenges.

Invasion of international digital platforms to Sri Lanka is inevitable and we have to be ready to accept and meet challenges without changing ourselves culturally and age-old traditions and habits we lived with.

Consumerism is not an alien concept to us when we had the Badulla ‘TAM’ in 1857 AD, with instructions to the consumer and trader along with other 4000 ’TAMS’ found on excavations, to show our past glory and education on the subject.

Therefore, it is time for us to give and interpret the correct meaning on consumerism to have the balancing livelihood of consumer, trader, regulator and the industrialist, in return the citizen to be happy and contended.

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The writer is the former Chairman Consumer Affairs Authority, President’s Counsel, former Ambassador to UAE and Israel, President Ambassadors’ Forum