[Documents menu] Documents menu
Date: Fri, 16 Jul 1999 11:32:54 -0500 (CDT)
From: rich@pencil.math.missouri.edu (Rich Winkel)
Organization: PACH
Subject: RIGHTS-PAKISTAN: Consumers Left To the Mercy of the Market
Article: 69899
Message-ID: <bulk.8316.19990717211511@chumbly.math.missouri.edu>

/** ips.english: 400.0 **/
** Topic: RIGHTS-PAKISTAN: Consumers Left To the Mercy of the Market **
** Written 9:04 PM Jul 15, 1999 by newsdesk in cdp:ips.english **
Copyright 1999 InterPress Service, all rights reserved.
Worldwide distribution via the APC networks.
*** 15-Jul-99 ***

Consumers Left To the Mercy of the Market

By Muddassir Rizvi, IPS
15 July 1999

ISLAMABAD, Jul 15 (IPS) - "I found a dead cockroach in a cold drink bottle," says Irfan Ahmed, a lawyer in the Pakistan capital. "I complained to the shopkeeper, he just laughed and exchanged it with another."

"As a responsible consumer, I tried my best to file a complaint by invoking whatever provisions there exist in laws, but after being cold-shouldered by the authorities, I ended up writing a letter to the editor in a newspaper," he wryly adds.

Pakistan's headlong plunge into market economics has seen it give up all attempts at safeguarding the interests of consumers, and introduction of consumer protection measures has been at a snail's pace.

"Consumer protection is non-existent in Pakistan. Successive governments have been very quick in introducing market mechanism to change the outlook of the country's economy, but at the same time they have ignored its impact on the people," maintains Ali Qadir, an Islamabad-based consumer protection activist.

In the absence of regulatory controls and quality checks, there are defective, over-priced and expired products in the market, but there is no place where complaints can be redressed.

Last month, the local administration in the southern Punjab town of Multan conducted a survey of food and beverages outlets in the city and found all samples collected to be sub-standard and not fit for human consumption.

"We collected 125 samples from local hotels, bottlers of beverages and manufacturers of ice cream and found all of them unfit - in most cases due to their preparation in unhygienic conditions," said an official of the Punjab Health Department.

"These people are playing with the lives of the people and there is no law in the country which can give them exemplary punishment," the official added.

Things are bad in Pakistan, says Samina, an advocate for breastfeeding and the implementation of international restrictions on the sale of baby foods as substitutes for mother's milk.

"All packaged milk brands claim that they are the purest and highest selling in the country ... state-run PTV accepts ads from tobacco companies and also manufacturers of cancer-causing 'pan masala', but nobody can question them," she asserts.

Officials say that food adulteration and hoarding are rampant but their hands are tied. The government's Monopoly Control Authority (MCA) agrees that there is urgent need for a legal and administrative framework for consumer protection in the country.

"In the absence of regulatory controls, consumers are exposed to misleading information by companies, unsafe products and fluctuating prices," commented a research officer at the MCA. "Just an effective complaint redressal system would change the attitude of private commercial sector towards the consumers."

Recently, the Pakistan Environmental Protection Agency (Pak-EPA) tested several brands of mineral and bottled water available in the market, and found most of them sub-standard with deceptive and misleading labels. However, the agency did not name the brands, saying that was not part of its mandate.

Earlier the EPA found unsafe lead levels in available brands of wall paint. But again it did not inform consumers about the "hazardous" brands. "We just can't go public with our findings since it would create distrust in the industry ... we have told the manufacturers to bring the lead content to permissible limits," said one official of the Pak-EPA.

Consumer protection groups in Pakistan have time and again demanded that the government place consumer interest at the centre of policy-making. In 1995 they won a small but significant victory when the government enacted the Consumer Protection Act for the federal capital territory.

However, bureaucratic hurdles and procrastination has ensured the act was never implemented. Similarly, another law enacted in 1996 in the North West Frontier Province, one of the country's four provinces, still remains on paper.

"We were not given any funds to establish the consumer court and the council ... how can we implement any law without money," comments an official in the Islamabad administration.

In this context, the recent tabling of a consumer protection bill in the Punjab Assembly has received a mixed response. The proposed provincial law that took nine years to draft makes way for the setting up of consumer courts and consumer protection councils at the district level.

"We want to reverse the commonly used phrase 'beware buyer' to 'beware seller'," says S.A. Hamid, a Punjab legislator who led the team that drafted the bill.

He asserts the government will check all unethical business practices and take to task those manufacturing or selling substandard goods and services. He is optimistic the bill will be made into law and a consumer protection infrastructure in Punjab province put in place during 1999-2000.

However, close scrutiny of the provincial budget this year reveals there is no money for the setting up of consumer courts or the district consumer councils, and leading consumer groups think the law would be toothless.

"Pakistan has impressive laws and policies to show off to the world, but the problem is with implementation," comments consumer activist Qadir.

The Islamabad-based Consumer Rights Commission of Pakistan (CRCP), which is critical, says the proposed Punjab law only provides protection to people who have the buying power.

"What about people who can not stand in the market place...they still have the right to basic needs which the state is bound to provide them," says CRPC in its letter to the Punjab government. The group has also called for increase in the number of consumer representatives on the consumer councils.

While The Network, a health advocacy group, says it is opposed to separate provincial laws and advocates national legislation on the issue. "A comprehensive strategy for protection and promotion of consumer interests require national commitment and effort," avers its Executive Coordinator Zafar Mirza.

"I believe that consumer protection and economic reforms should go hand in hand ... For me exercising consumer rights is exercising citizenship," he declares. (END/IPS/mr/an/99)

Origin: New Delhi/RIGHTS-PAKISTAN/

---- [c] 1999, InterPress Third World News Agency (IPS) All rights reserved

May not be reproduced, reprinted or posted to any system or service outside of the APC networks, without specific permission from IPS. This limitation includes distribution via Usenet News, bulletin board systems, mailing lists, print media and broadcast. For information about cross- posting, send a message to <wdesk@ips.org>. For information about print or broadcast reproduction please contact the IPS coordinator at <online@ips.org>.

This material came from the Institute for Global Communications (IGC), a non-profit, unionized, politically progressive Internet services provider. For more information, send a message to igc-info@igc.org (you will get back an automatic reply), or visit their web site at http://www.igc.org/ . IGC is a project of the Tides Center, a 501(c)(3) charitable organization.

[World History Archives]    [Gateway to World History]    [Images from World History]    [Hartford Web Publishing]