Date: Fri, 16 Jul 1999 11:32:54 -0500 (CDT)
From: email@example.com (Rich Winkel)
Subject: RIGHTS-PAKISTAN: Consumers Left To the Mercy of the Market
/** 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
"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
"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
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
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/
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