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Monday, March 22, 2010

Learn to be a smart consumer

AS a consumer advocate, I am not surprised to read “Minister: Many unaware of their consumer rights” (The Star, March 19).

Consumers must be educated and informed. I advocated that way back in the 1980s when I was president of the Negeri Sembilan Consumer Association.

And now Domestic Trade, Cooperatives and Consumerism Minister Datuk Seri Ismail Sabri Yaakob says “some 42% of consumers in the country are not aware of their rights, including claiming damages through the Consumer Claims Tribunal”.

This state of affairs worries me, and I am sure the various consumer bodies and the national consumer group Fomca, too. An informed consumer is an asset in the market; and an uneducated one, a liability.

My wish is that consumers are not only an educated lot but also begin to live it. While they have their rights, they have responsibilities, too.

The ministry concerned has an important role here. Produce booklets, pamphlets and leaflets with clear guidelines covering various topics that can assist consumers to buy wisely and pragmatically.

Hold dialogues with them to inform them of the various laws that affect them, as well as air information over TV and radio.

As of now consumers appear weak and poorly coordinated. We must have a strong voice to ask for change. Consumers must be more united.

Consumer associations, increase your membership, for a strong consumer body can take on bad business practices. Poorly organised consumers can’t.

Begin to revive the now “silent” consumer clubs in schools. In teaching consumer knowledge/skills in schools, children can be can be prepared for “adult consumerism”.

Teach them to recognise bargains and buying skills, how they can recognise fakes and adverts that aren’t what they say they are, as well as a host of other selling ways in the market that easily mislead buyers.

Consumers today must be alert when buying, wise in making choices, educated on marketing and finance, and know how and where to lodge a complaint.

The Domestic Trade, Cooperatives and Consumerism Ministry must monitor price hikes, shoddy goods and misleading advertisements.

Agencies that are there to assist the consumer must wake up to their duty and roles. I suggest that we revive and revamp the Price Protection Council under the ambit of the ministry.

Get the price watchers, the Voluntary Price Monitoring team (VPM – 17,000-strong formed in 2001), to do the task they were appointed for, that is, to provide effective feedback on prices of goods and services.

And while consumers must know their rights, traders must be an ethical lot and not be always driven by profit.


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