Attention paid to consumer rights–at least today
KARACHI: With the world celebrating the World Consumer Rights Day 2014 on Saturday, the Pakistani consumer couldn’t ask for a better theme than “Fix Our Phone Rights” – the focus for this year.
With a cellular subscriber base of 132 million, the country’s cellular users remain vulnerable to deceptive marketing practices, say consumer rights activists. With an expected rise in data services – to be driven by the rollout of high-speed mobile internet technology – there will be a greater need for data security, transparent billing and fair contracts, they say.
This year’s theme is aimed to make phone regulators and companies more accountable to the consumers, through access to a reliable service, security of their data, fair contracts and billing and curtailing abuse, The Network for Consumer Protection said in a statement.
The rise in mobile ownership has not been without its problems. The low literacy rate in Pakistan has not helped, with some elements troubling consumers with obnoxious and unwanted communication, the statement said. The Pakistan Telecommunication Authority received 29,714 consumer complaints against mobile operators about issues including fraudulent calls and text messages, misuse of mobile services, billing and quality of services, it said. The rights activists also proposed that the services should be affordable – the country’s cellular tariffs, however, are already one of the lowest in the world.
Focus on other sectors in general
While the telecom sector remained the focus of attention for the international community in 2014, Pakistan is far behind the rest of the world when it comes to protection of consumer rights in general. Apart from Punjab, one hardly finds enforcement of consumer laws while Sindh doesn’t even have one.
“Pakistan is a signatory to the United Nations Guidelines on Consumer Protection but the plight of [its] consumers is quite pathetic,” said Abrar Hafeez, an official at the Consumer Rights Commission of Pakistan (CRCP).
Hafeez said the Islamabad Consumer Protection (CP) Act 1995 was the first consumer protection act enacted in Pakistan followed by Khyber-Pakhtunkhwa (K-P) CP Act of 1997. Implementation of both these laws is poor as very few consumer complaints were submitted to these courts, he said. The K-P CP law was replicated, with a few minor changes, in Balochistan as well but its implementation is yet to be seen, he said.
The 2005-enactment of Consumer Protection Act by the Punjab government remains the only example of a successful implementation, according to experts.
There are 11 District Consumer Courts and an equal number of District Consumer Protection Councils, which are operational in the province since 2006, according to Hafeez. “The performance of these courts and councils has been widely appreciated by the consumers,” he said.
Hafeez’s observations were echoed by former director at the Punjab Consumer Protection Council Saeed Akhtar Ansari. There has been a significant rise in the level of awareness and trust on the consumer courts, he said. People in Lahore and some other districts, for example, were demanding for more consumer courts as the existing ones have about 10,000 to 15,000 cases pending, he said.
While consumers in Punjab, particularly in Lahore, are demanding for more consumer courts to cater to their growing demand, those in Sindh don’t have even one. In fact, there is no consumer law in place in the province.
“Sindh is the only province that remains without a consumer protection law,” said Hamid Maker who is the founder of Helpline Trust, a consumer rights organisation. Whatever deceptions consumers are facing in the market is because of the absence of consumer law, he said, questioning the provincial government, “Why don’t have a consumer protection law.”
Maker told a press conference on Thursday that the Sindh Consumer Protection Bill was tabled in the Sindh Assembly recently.
“The existing Consumer Protection laws should be fully operationalised and a Consumer Protection Law should be enacted for Sindh without further loss of time,” said Hafeez of the CRCP.