Daily News Online

Thursday, 18 August 2011






Marriage Proposals
Government Gazette

Enthroning the consumer as 'king'

It is quite some time since Sri Lanka began to proceed along the hazard-prone highway of consumerism but it is an open question whether the average consumer of this country is really 'king' as he purportedly is in those societies where the market system is made out to be fully functional. Over the past few weeks in particular, irregularities in the provision of some basic consumer items, such as, fuel and cement, have helped remind us that kingship for the consumer is hard to come by. Besides, it is questionable whether our consumers are getting quality for money.

Fortunately for the consumer, the state has not overlooked to have in place the necessary institutional mechanisms to secure, to the extent possible, in a mainly free market economy, the essential interests of the consumer. Ensuring goods and services of notable quality in a liberalized economy, where regulatory mechanisms are almost absent, is a daunting challenge and we do not underestimate the difficulties of organizations, such as, the Consumer Affairs Authority (CAA). However, the challenge confronting the state is to keep the essentials of the market economy in place while looking after the vital needs of the consumer. This involves tight-rope walking of the most exacting kind.

As for containing prices, there is precious little the state could do if the commodity in question is imported and an example that easily comes to mind is fuel. This is on account of the uncontrollability of price fluctuations in the international market. However, much could be done in terms of ensuring quality for money and here's where state institutions, such as, the CAA could achieve much for the consumer. Considering all this, the state is obliged to go to the root of recent scandals, such as those involving contaminated fuel and below-the-grade cement, and to bring the relevant wrong-doers to book.

What emerges as obvious when problems relating to ensuring top quality for money are studied closely is that the state and its organizations are obliged to constantly and vigilantly monitor the consumer goods and retail trade sectors, in particular, to ensure that the best interests of the consumer are secured. We do not intend to be nostalgic but in times past when our economy was not considered as 'open', this was done almost round-the-clock and those fleecing the consumer were very expeditiously brought to justice. Likewise, bribery and corruption were also dealt with in a relatively effective fashion.

We are not advocating a return to the days of the 'command economy' but the state has no choice but to be firm with crooked businessmen, traders and the like and their collaborators in the state sector, if it is in earnest when it says that it is for protecting the best interests of the consumer. Just yesterday, we reported the case of a hoarder of cement who was taken to task by a no-nonsense magistrate. Thus, vigilance on the part of state agencies pays and it is our hope that things will continue to remain this way for the sake of the ordinary consumer of this country.

The recent scandals in the sale and distribution of essential commodities drive home the point that the common weal could not be served effectively without the state containing bad trading practices and institutional corruption simultaneously. The truth must be faced that corruption has grown in tandem with economic liberalization and that consumer interests cannot be protected without something drastic being done about corruption in places that matter.

Thus, our corruption fighting machinery must be greatly empowered. It must be mighty enough to net the sharks as well as the small fry. Besides, such institutions need to be in a position to do something substantial and effective about corporate sector corruption too. There is a common tendency to think of the corporate sector as being above corrupt practices but this may be a misleading notion, although very many corporate bodies are without blemish in this sense. However, the bottom line is that the consumer stands to lose when the cancer of corruption is allowed to grow. Trade and other sectors of the economy could very well be liberalized but if nothing is done about corruption the chances are that inequalities within the public would grow astronomically, resulting in societal instability that would be difficult to contain.

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