Sri Lanka: Consumer Affairs Authority — What is to be Done in The Digital Age! 

Modern changes are fast by passing the traditional consumer culture with the modern developments via social media internet and contacts.


by Sarath Wijesinghe 

Consumer Affairs Authority

( January 16, 2017, Colombo, Sri Lanka Guardian) CAA act 9 of 2003 is the main regulator body in Sri Lanka, for the consumer which includes the professional and the service sector among the other statutory bodies such as *Trade Marks Ordinance, *Prisons and dangerous drugs ordinance, *Control of prices Ordinance, * Weights and measures Ordinance, * food and drugs Act,* Control of prices Act,* food control Act,* Food control ( possession Act,* Licencing of traders Act,* Bureau of Ceylon standards Act,* National price commission law,* Consumer protection act,* Code of intellectual property Act, *Petroleum products Act,* food Act, cosmetic devices and drugs act,* Consumer credit act, * Sri Lanka standards institution act,* Fair trading commission act,* Measurements ,units, standards, and service act,* Unfair control terms act, *Local authorities including Public Health Officers and Procuring Officers,* Provincial Council including prosecuting officers and * consumer organizations, which are inactive, insufficient, but unfortunately not functioning up to the expecting standards. If they did, the consumer would not be in the current pathetic plight and trader business would be of international standard. These statutory bodies are expected to perform multipurpose in looking after the consumer, whilst maintaining the equilibrium with the trader, industrialist, state and the consumer in the maintenance of trade and business process and the culture in the state for the community. Dispute the existence of this battery of legislation Sri Lankan consumer is the most neglected in the Society as President John Kennedy stated at the inauguration of the world Consumer Day in 1962. Today the USA consumer is powerful and organized to assert the due right s and recognition due to the activism of the consumer organizations and the State.

Duties and Functions

Is Sri Lankan consumer a satisfied citizen enjoying healthy and quality food, consumer items of standard, services including all professionals and the workforce, at least of some standard if not of international or UN standards many citizens in the other parts of the world enjoy , is a moot issue confine to the consumer alone who are in the receiving end. CAA is a complete deviation from the traditional system which is a product of English Law and Consumerism and the jurisprudence which is functioning satisfactorily in the west with the assistance of the statutory bodies and consumer

organizations. State Policy and the CAA are *to provide better protection against unfair and restrictive trade practices, *Promote competitive pricing, for healthy competitions, and * protect trader and manufactures of unfair and restrictive trade practices. How far and to what extend these policies are implemented are matters to be discussed in the public domain of the citizen. The main objects of the CAA includes *protection of the consumers against the marketing of goods or the provision of services which are hazardous to the life and property of the consumers, *to protect consumers against unfair trade practices and guarantee that consumers interest shall be given due consideration, *to ensure that wherever possible consumers have adequate access to goods and services at competitive process and seek redress against unfair trade practices,* restrictive trade practices or any other forms of exploitation of consumers by traders. To what extend the objectives are met is a moot issue, but the consumer is in a helpless situation before the multinational and local business and services powers. CAA is expected to perform these functions through the regulations under part three of the act which has given powers to the authority to perform duties through regulations and directions such as quality/price control, citizen be give adequate quantities, labelling, price marking, packing, sale, manufacture, mark the maximum price, specify batch number, specify expiry dates, manufacturing, importing, marketing, storage, selling, stocking, registration of traders and many other powers to perform duties of the CAA. Traditional consumerism based on English and EU law, practice and jurisprudence is simple effective with plethora of practice procedures and conventions and heavy case law practices and used since the introduction of the system few decades ago with all other English law precedents. As a result of the confusion between the English Law practiced and CAA which is mixture of Australian/ Canadian model, the Consumerism and the jurisprudence is in a state of confusion and there is hardly any conventions practice precedents, or case law and practices since the introduction of CAA. Ideally magistrate court being the original court should be the imitation of the practice and jurisprudence with a potential to reach superiors courts for ultimate decision-making. Consumer matters are hardly heard in the magistrates’ court now with the CAA quite in implementing the regulations and directions for reasons the citizen cannot understand. It is dormant, inefficient and inactive.

Consumerism Worldwide

Consumerism in UK, EU and even in India is far ahead of Sri Lanka. In India consumer courts are effective and the jurisdiction in higher courts has been active due to public interest litigation and consumer activism by the organised groups and the court at its initiative. It is productive for Sri Lanka to set up Consumer Courts and use the Mediation boards to settle consumer disputes in an amicable atmosphere. EU directions to the member countries including UK until the recent changes in the EU politics had updated and made consumerism effective and live through EU directions when UK was developing the activism and jurisprudence independently. Consumerism culture in the USA and the west including UK has drastically transformed into vibrant and forceful trade war among supermarket and online giants such as Amazon, Sainsbury’s, Tesco, Argos E-bay, Ali Baba, which are on the doo steps of the digital age, mega world online giants are introducing the world through mass platforms with attractive and ferocious market strategies small timers cannot penetrate. Sri Lanka is fast changing towards the trend due to ripple effects of winds of digital changes.

Gradual Approach

Sri Lanka is gradually entering into the club of online and digital purchase, who are gradually giving up traditional shopping patterns and way of living with mobile phones managing businesses, professional duties, household and everything and anything with the application of modern AP’s in every sector. Credit cards in Sri Lanka have become common with almost the entire population using mobile phones and different kinds of applications including what’s up, viber Facebook and many modern applications improving with new methods and developments every minute. In the Unied Kingdom Sainsbury’s have bought over Argos, and Home Base, which are high street giants and traditional sale points, to strengthen online trade. Many traditional high street shops such as Woolworth, MFI, and Summerfield had to be closed down giving the way for the new comers in online business. Customers will order any consumer item on line to be delivered to be collected at his leisure. Any item could be perched on line to be delivered within the shortest possible time with full confidence of the consumer who is guaranteed the price, quality and delivery on time. Refunds are prompt and returned items are promptly accepted. Due to self-regulation and organized consumer organisations and magazines such as “WHIch”, competition among the online trade the state intervention are rare and unnecessary. In Sri Lank like in the UK the small time business have taken over by giant supermarkets managing successfully eating into the small business limping for existence. The traditional starter up business of the nation in the UK, known as corner shops are fast disintegrating with mini giant Sainsbury’s, and Tesco emerging all over. In Sri Lanka too this is happening fast with the same results.

Changes on Consumerism

When the consumerism in Sri Lanka is facing fast changes with the new consumer culture due to ripple effects of modern changes and the fast technological developments worldwide, the CAA is dormant and confined to basic traditional duties of imposing fines in traders and the other business community at the cost of the consumer who in turn are targeted by the trader by increasing prices to recover the fines paid whilst keep on exploitation. Modern changes are fast by passing the traditional consumer culture with the modern developments via social media internet and contacts.

Way Forward

It is time the CAA, Consumer and the State face these issues during the passing by era of the door steps of the digital age with care and cautions to avoid disasters on fast changes due to the ripple effects of transitional stages. New developments are going to cut down sizable amount of jobs. Driverless cares will be introduced globally soon to avoid accidents and want of drivers. Cheques, Banks, and notes, will be things of the past soon and school children will be taught on line. Corner shops will be a matter of the past and industries will need the minimum labour as a result of the impending digitisation which is Challenges to the State, CAA, Chambers of Commerce, Trade Societies, Consumer organisations.  It is not too late for the CAA to propose the long overdue changes to the statue and implement the existing rules and directions to apply in the citizen during the transitional period until the digital age is reach. Best and the mist effective method would be formation of the consumer societies which is a long overdue duty entrusted to the CAA.


( The writer is a former Chairman Consumer Affairs Authority and former Sri Lankan envoy to UAE and Israel. Views expressed in this article are author own) 

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