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Trusted smart products – theme of World Consumer Day 2019


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Era of digitalisation

It is a pity that one of the most powerful groups worldwide which is the consumer group in Sri Lanka is a powerless insignificant group in the lowest ebb on consumerism in Sri Lanka due to inaction and lack of organised efforts to protect, promote and foster the due rights for the benefit of all citizens. 

Consumer International chooses the most appropriate topic of the year for the World Consumer Month/Day with promotional activities in organising the consumer pressed to the wall by the industrialist, trader, and regulators with inaction when the consumer himself is inert and inactive giving the rights away for exploitation. The topics for previous consumer day/months have been making digital market places, consumer rights in the digital age, fix your phones right, shows the importance given to the modern revolutionary digital developments transforming the entire market arena to the digitalised world. 

Whether the transformation is safe and appropriate to the consumer with little experience in international digital affairs and the pace of introduction, are matters to be concerned about for all consumers worldwide



Whether the transformation is safe and appropriate to the consumer with little experience in international digital affairs and the pace of introduction, are matters to be concerned about for all consumers worldwide. With the expansion of computer literacy, possession of mobile phones with the majority of citizens there are many changes on the application of near digitised practice of a community in use of imported smart products. It seems digitalisation is inevitable in the present trends of fast world digitalisation where all fields and sectors including administration, governance, health, education, and aviation, are being digitalised worldwide, and the trend has a direct ripple effect on us, compelling changes and adjustments where trusted smart products have become tools for consumers for day-to-day lives and livelihood of the citizen.



Invasion of digitalisation to Sri Lanka 

The ripple effects of worldwide digitalisation has invaded Sri Lanka with the large density of mobile phones overriding the population and excessive use of mobiles and internet with the catalyst effects of computer internet literacy and usage of mobile phones by all sectors of the population. 

International market platforms such as EBAY, Ali Baba and money transfers have accelerated the inflow of consumer items to the country freely with less restrictions and resistance with no proper control on quality, standards, and pricing, leaving it to the monopolised trader enjoying a field day with the inactivity of the main Regulator Consumer Affairs Authority and other regulators in the dark leaving the arena to the traders, and importers monopolising the trade making Sri Lanka a dumping yard.

All smart products are new, modern and imported to be utilised with limited guarantees due to lack of knowledge of the new products which is a worrying situation even to the consumer in the west and developed jurisdictions. 

Their concerns are justified and preparation and protective measures are being taken to safeguard the consumer and smooth business culture and economy. In the most developed practices in trade of accepting items sold on demand and guarantees of aftercare supervised by trading standards the consumer in UK, Europe and the west can expect some kind of relief unlike in Sri Lanka where no returned consumer items are accepted with worst aftercare by agents and companies and no relief from the Consumer Affairs Authority or any other regulators.



Regularisation of the modern smart digitalised products

Consumer Affairs Authority is the main regulator to regulate the quality prize and the price manipulation of the products for sale by the trader to the consumer to his satisfaction based on the local and international guidelines. 

Consumerism in the west is regulated and the organised consumer is vigilant and educated on the subject acting hand in hand with the state, regulator, and other necessary parties in the process of harmonised consumer regime with the control and regularisation of the regulators. 

It is doubtful whether CAA is competent to regulate the influx of most modern smart products with the limited staff and the meagre resources to assess the most modern smart products amounting to over 231 billion worldwide out of which a proportional portion has found the way to Sri Lanka.

 The main regulator Consumer Affairs Authority Act No. 9 of 2003 is outdated, archaic, which has made no changes since coming into force acting as an inert white elephant with no effective mechanism or prospects of improvements due to political appointments including the Chairman, the head of the institution, enjoying lot of perks and facilities from the tax payers’ money. 

It is doubtful whether they are aware of the changes taking place around and whether the Ministry of Trade – the line ministry has been planning for amendments to the act to keep pace with the modern trends hovering around us. The relevant legislation on the act is in part two of the act under regulation of trade based on the situation and circumstances in 2003 which is alien to the current trends in the fast developed world Sri Lanka is engulfed in, whether we like it or not leaving, us with the option to swim with the trend or perish! Whether the ministry has understood the challenges or taken any meaningful steps is left to good governance to decide.



Modern smart products in the market

Modern smart products vary from fitness equipment, voice activated items, smart TVs, and various products new in the market, with few or no experts to operate depending on the instructions and complicated electronic devices new to the technicians. 

Due to complicated and advanced performances there are concerns on security, privacy, how to use and lack of clarity are main concerns to the experts on consumerism, all of whom are novice to the new products in the market. 

High date charges and lack of awareness of the product are worrying drawbacks which are direct setbacks on the popularisation and productivity of the smart products in use.

 Influx of smart products are limited to Sri Lanka to experts and the rich with the potential to expand due to business propaganda and convenience despite the lack of facilities on after sale care and repairs. In the circumstance how the smart consumers are trusted is a moot issue in Sri Lanka considering the lack of facilities and knowledge of the system.



Way forward

Consumer International is credited for organising this world campaign of awareness programs annually with consumer month and activism with 220 member organisations in 15 countries from 1983 when ‘Kennady’ made the first famous speech identifying the consumer as a most powerful but backward group needing recognition and organisation as a powerful group, identifying, safety, freedom to choose, demand for information, and catalogue of rights subsequently accepted and recognised by the UN as rights. 

It is a pity that the NGOs, so called civil organisations with political and dollar agendas, social activists and organisations, have immersed in human rights and other activism which are lucrative in cash and political power when consumer is left high and dry in the clutches with the errant trader, fat cat industrialists, and inefficient regulators. 

Therefore the time is ripe for the consumer to organise in line with Consumer International and ‘WHICH’ magazine in the UK and worldwide consumer organisations to organise a consumer movement in Sri Lanka. It is mandatory for CAA under 2(1) (i) to promote, assist and encourage establishment of consumer organisations. 

CAA officers are well paid with perks and vehicles and one should find out how many consumer organisations CAA has organised and if so how active they are. 

Therefore it is time for concerned citizens of all walks of life including universities, activist groups, workers and their groups, academics, lawyers/professionals – OPA and BASL included – to take an initiative to take the challenge on behalf of themselves for a better life for themselves and the future generation.

 

(The writer is a President’s Counsel, former Chairman Consumer Affairs Authority and former Ambassador to UAE and Israel and could be reached on sarath7@hotmail.co.uk.)


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