Editorial

No protection for the Sri Lankan consumer

The Chief Medical Officer of Health of the Colombo Municipal Council Dr. Pradeep Kariyawasam did something very unusual for a public health official recently. He raided the food courts in Colombo’s posh shopping malls patronised by the rich and super rich brats and found some of them violating basic hygienic laws. This is commendable because the public presumes that these junk food outlets, some of them being agents for international brands, do maintain high hygienic standards. But this does not appear to be the case, certainly not in this country, if we are to go by recent reports.

Recently there have been reports of a young boy collapsing after drinking from a can of fizz of an international manufacturer. Wide publicity was given by The Island to this incident as well as other reports but the explanations provided by the manufacturers and distributors are far from satisfactory. Consumers have complained of lizards being found bottled inside internationally popular drinks and quite recently even a part of a mosquito coil being bottled. Persons who have consumed these drinks have been seriously affected and had to seek immediate medical treatment.

In other countries where there are active consumer resistance movements, the manufacturers would have had hell to pay. The governments would have been compelled to take action against the manufacturers and distributors. But in this country the customer is always held to be the wrong while the errant manufacturers and distributors get off scot-free!

There are many public health laws to prevent the manufacture and sale of such contaminated foods. There is the Consumer Protection Act and departments under the Ministry of Trade where legal action can be taken against the offenders. The public expects the Minister of Trade Mr. Ravi Karunanayake, reputed to be a minister who takes action, to move against such offenders, particularly when they are multinationals.

There are various categories of officials in government organisations as well as local government bodies whose duty is to implement consumer protection laws as well as public health laws. These officials should be spurred into action. In one of the cases reported by The Island an imported brand of a fizz drink has had no expiry date! Apparently multinationals appear to be exploiting the lackadaisical attitude of our public health officials. The power of the purse should not be permitted to exploit helpless consumers.

It has been pointed out that the prices of some products sold in Sri Lanka are even cheaper than in the country of manufacture, giving rise to the presumption that outdated products or products about to exceed the dates of expiry are being imported here.

Sri Lankans today are being made to pay world market prices for imported goods-prices that are being paid by consumers of affluent countries whose incomes are perhaps ten fold or even greater than an average consumer here. The least we can demand from the government is that the consumer protection laws be implemented in the same vigorous manners in those countries.

We are aware that a number of complaints have been made by the public against even products of multinationals. The way to protect the consumer is to impose exemplary punishments on these rapacious exploiters whom may be under the impression that their outdated and putrefying products can be dumped on Sri Lankan consumers.

It is time for the government to act.

Minoritarianism

Is the exclusion of any Sinhalese representatives from committees appointed to review land and all other related issues in the Eastern Province, a Freudian slip on the part of peace negotiators of the government and the LTTE? It has been decided at the Berlin talks that six representatives of the Muslims from each district and six from the LTTE are appointed to these committees. Provision has not been made for even a single Sinhalese to be accommodated in any committee. The LTTE’s desire to keep out Sinhalese from any place anywhere at any time can be understood. But the government to be a partner to such a decision is inexplicable unless of there is a tacit agreement to leave the Eastern Province to the Tamils and Muslims and to deprive the Sinhalese in having any say in the administration of the province. Decisions of this nature give credence to rumours of ‘ secret pacts’ between the government and the LTTE.

The excuse trotted out by some that Sinhalese will be appointed if required is laughable when considering the high proportion of Sinhalese in the Eastern Province and where issues like land are concerned. The proportions of the three different communities speak for themselves. Tamils number 607,000-41.8 per cent of the population; Muslims number, 510,000-35 per cent and Sinhalese 338,000-23 per cent. How these peace-making pundits came to the conclusion that 23 per cent of the population of a district could be ignored in deciding vital issues such as land cannot be dismissed as simple naivety but suggests something diabolical.

The recommendations of these committees are to be discussed at the sessions to be held in Japan in the third week of March and it is of utmost urgency that this issue be taken up immediately.

The group of nations that have been brought together are expected to fund the reconstruction and rehabilitation of the Northern and Eastern Provinces. Already, Japan has made a substantial contribution of Rs 26,000 million and it is essential that these funds be distributed fairly and not end up in the LTTE war chest.

The decision to leave out Sinhalese by these enthusiastic peace seekers is no doubt counterproductive because it once again places a big question mark over this peace process and the impartiality of the negotiators.


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