STRAIGHT TALK

The Elusive Consumer Protection Bill was to be introduced in the Sindh Assembly last week, as a private member’s bill by Sharmila Faruqui, advisor CM, Sindh. I was also present in the SA on that day as an observer, but because of a long and heated debate between the Law Makers and the opposition, on the point of admissibility and merit of a motion, the Bill failed to be initiated, as  Ms. Sharmila was not given  an opportunity to take up  the matter. It is hoped that it will now be taken up in the next meeting on private members’ day of the Assembly.
Sharmilla had worked very hard with us in formulating the Bill and after examining the existing CP Bills in the country and the region, we had drawn up a very comprehensive Bill, covering the concepts of consumer courts, the issue of counterfeiting and look-alike consumer products and undue price fluctuations.
 As the Bill was long overdue and its contents had been vetted by the home and law departments, the Bureau of Supply and Prices, etc., we had hoped that it would be introduced in the house and adopted without delay, but as always, that was not to be.
As such, Sindh still continues to lag behind other provinces, where formal laws exist for the protection of consumer rights and is now the only province which does not have a Consumer Protection Law or Consumer Courts.
For the record, Consumer Protection Ordinance, Sindh, was first signed by the Governor on 12th August 2004 and since then, three more times, but was never presented to the Sindh Assembly for ratification and has lapsed 4 times because of lack of political will.
In other SAARC countries, Consumer Protection is serious business, especially India, where the Indian government has given full support to the consumers. The Consumer Protection Act, India, was introduced in 1986 and a separate Ministry for Consumer Affairs was established, which has been very pro-active in protecting the interests of the consumers.
  The Indian CPL clearly defines the guidelines to protect consumer interests and the Supreme Court of India, with the help of the electronic and print media is playing a pro-active role in protecting consumer rights.
As such, there are over 2000 consumer courts that deal with approximately 5 lac consumer complaints annually, providing speedy justice and redress to consumer complaints within 30 days.
This positive action by the government has had a tremendous impact in promoting quality and standards and in protecting the interest of the consumers. There are now over 2000 consumer protection organizations operating in India.
In every country, consumers are at the core of all business operations and their interests have to be kept paramount. Manufacturers and service providers have to tailor their operations and provide consumers with quality products and services, in a manner that is profitable, yet ethical, so as to satisfy all stakeholders.
They are treated with the respect they deserve, as they have the power to make or break a brand.
Whether it is government, giant corporations or small manufacturers, when consumer organizations raise a consumer related issue, it is taken seriously and appropriate action is taken by each of these bodies to rectify the situation.
In Pakistan, even the existing Food and Drug laws are not being enforced and are being ignored by manufacturers, government and even the consumers. The biggest enemy of consumers in Pakistan is the consumers himself, as he does not check or demand quality or is reluctant to register a complaint and simply accepts whatever is sold to him.
Consumers constantly complain about escalating prices, sub-standard, spurious and adulterated products and services and yet refuse to lodge a complaint or take effective action. If the consumers were to collectively boycott some items for a few days and refuse to purchase them, unless they were sold at government prices, the vendors would have no option but to lower their prices. 
Due to the lack of Consumer Protection Laws and enforcement of existing Food and Drug Laws, the markets are flooded with substandard, look alike and counterfeit products and Pakistan has become a dumping ground for semi expired food, beverages and medicines. This has turned us into a “number doe” nation, which is even reflected in our behavior, in our sports and our system of governance.
As there is no accountability or legal check, the gullible citizens are being misled by glossy advertisements and callous manufacturers and wholesalers play havoc with the health and lives of the consumers.
Some unscrupulous manufacturers even use non-food grade plastics and old, rusted tins for packing cooking oils, while others refill empty bottles and tins with sub-standard products and market them under popular brand names, to cheat the consumers. Thus, consumers are being poisoned and cheated by misleading advertisements and Pakistan has become a dumping ground for such products.
According to the existing Sindh Ordinance, 2001, PSQCA laws and food and drug laws, all the above offences are punishable by imprisonment and fine, yet none are punished. The lack of enforcement of laws has also tarnished our image in the International community and has had a negative effect in the investment climate.
No large multinational company is willing to invest in Pakistan, unless it is confident that its brand will be protected from counterfeit and look-alike products, through strong and effective consumer protection laws and consumer courts. And as Pakistan lacks both these legislations, International companies prefer to invest in our neighboring countries, where there are effective protection laws for manufacturers. 
A recent survey shows that the government is also losing billions of rupees  every year in foreign investments and revenues, in the form of taxes, excise duties, etc., as most of these manufacturers of spurious and counterfeit products are not registered and do not pay taxes.
Unless the government has the political will to protect consumers, by establishing an effective Consumer Protection Bill and Consumer Courts, consumers will continue to be poisoned and cheated and Pakistan will continue to be a dumping ground for counterfeit, look-alike and substandard food, beverages and medicines.
It was Victor Hugo who had said: “All the armies in the world cannot stop the march of an idea whose time has come”. Let us hope the time of consumer protection has come in Pakistan and it is now up to us, the Consumers, to become active soldiers in a battle to improve the quality of products and services in Pakistan. 
n email: trust@helplinetrust.org