INTERVIEW WITH KAUKAB IQBAL, CHAIRMAN CONSUMER ASSOCIATION OF PAKISTAN
Feb 28 - Mar 6, 2011
Kaukab Iqbal is the Chairman of Consumer Association of Pakistan (CAP) and has rendered matchless and unbelievable services for the protection of consumers' rights. He is the founder of CAP, which has caused the awareness among consumers for their rights. He belongs to a respectable, noble and literary but a moderate family. Kaukab Iqbal started his attachment for this grand purpose when he was gaining primary education! He was social secretary of his school. Later on, he was assigned with the responsibilities of the president, which indicates and exposes his devotion and dedication for empowering the society with its rights. He got his B.Tech from a recognized university along with seeking training internationally for the consumers' awareness programs, that's way he visited different countries to know about the rights of consumers. He, after his successful achievements in education, attached to his business on the suggestion of his father, who used to work in a distinguished company. After gaining partnership there, he started import and export and worked a lot for coconut oil plam plantation and has a durable reputation for this plantation throughout Pakistan. Today, he is not known only in Pakistan as protector of consumers rights but also in the world.
Since 2000, CAP has been busy in promoting protection to consumer rights in Pakistan by creating awareness among the public of basic rights of the consumers When it was talked about CAP missions and aims, he told that we aim to defend and promote the interests of Pakistani consumers - citizens as purchasers or users of goods and services - in the Pakistani policy process. Drawing on collective knowledge and experience, the CAP team and our members together develop policy positions that form the basis of our campaigning. We contribute expertise on issues that have direct economic or legal consequences for consumers or that impact consumers' health, safety and environment. We seek to maximize the benefits of the Pakistani market and minimize potential risks for the consumer, focusing increasingly on matters of quality and on social and ethical issues. We pay special attention to the needs of our most vulnerable citizens, including children, the elderly and the disadvantaged. Our vision of the Pakistani State is one of shared responsibility among all stakeholders in society to maintain and strengthen basic consumer rights.
Additionally, he indicated that consumers are in contact with a vast range of everyday products containing chemicals. The existing outdated legislation does not offer adequate consumer protection; all the more so as there is extremely limited knowledge available on the majority of these chemicals.
Consumer Association Of Pakistan has proposed a new system to regulate chemicals called REACH (Registration, Evaluation, and Authorization of Chemicals). We see the REACH proposal as an important step in the right direction, as it intends to phase out the most problematic substances and to gain more information about chemicals. We welcome the proposals, but would point out that they fail to address, or to address adequately, some key consumer issues. Consumers need more information on how to lead a more "sustainable" way of life. At the moment, consumers not only receive insufficient information on dangerous chemicals in every-day consumer products but also on the energy efficiency of electronic equipment and the energy used during "stand-by". The manufacturers should offer a guarantee to consumers that they buy products that fulfill the highest ecological criteria. We are concerned though that the Pakistani flower is lost in a jungle of many other "ecological", "green" and "natural" claims. In order to avoid confusion, it is fundamental to encourage the use of one single ecological label that would inform all consumers, in Pakistan, that the product they buy respects the environment.
In his message, he expressed that everyone should work with devotion, affection and dedication to gain success and should leave no stone unturned to dealing in honestly, faithfully and according to the needs of time. He requested the high concerned authority to protect consumers rights at every cost.
PAGE: WHY IS CONSUMER PROTECTION IMPORTANT?
KAUKAB IQBAL: Consumer protection laws are designed to ensure fair competition and the free flow of truthful information in the marketplace. The laws are designed to prevent businesses that engage in fraud or specified unfair practices from gaining an advantage over competitors and may provide additional protection for the weak and those unable to take care of themselves. Consumer protection laws are a form of government regulation which aim to protect the interests of consumers.
Law requires that products must be of a quality that is fit for the purpose for which it is usually used i.e. if a washing machine does not spin clothes it is not reliable. If this guarantee is broken, the consumer can return the goods and get a refund of the payment made, if the person acts as soon as possible. Also, the consumer can claim damages for the breach. For example, if a consumer purchases a CD from a shop and finds there are many scratches on the CD, the CD will not work properly and will only play parts of the song then he can send complaint to CAP or directly to the consumer's court.
The consequences of growing integration globally include enhanced speed & velocity of transactions involving finance, technology, information, and transportation of goods and services. The business is on the move globally and outsourcing provides cheaper inputs resulting in cost effective products and services. As a consequence, business remains competitive and consumers get more options to choose from a range of products and services. The services trade is growing immensely and increased connectivity has provided it with virtual space to move and grow.
The increasing competition due to availability of information make consumer confused but at the same time cost of product and services may decrease to the benefit of the consumer. The standards of products and services can go down and deceptive practices to earn profits may gain currency.
Globalization is not an equitable process and its effects vary depending on the social status and geographical location of the individual. Liberalization, privatization of economy and regulation of the markets are the buzzwords these days but in fact, regulation and de-regulation of business continues side by side. Need is being felt to introduce rights based regime to face the ill effects of globalization. The human rights of the citizens are a contested domain and they have become an integral part of national and global policies aimed at providing justice and equal opportunity for all. The academics argue that economic and process regulation should be replaced by social regulation including consumer protection.
Every consumer wants high quality products and services in return for his hard-earned money. The rights of consumers are an integral part of human rights agenda, specifically elaborated in the guidelines for consumer protection formulated by United Nations General Assembly in 1985. These guidelines provide a framework to safeguard the consumers against deception, fraud, and exploitation.
At the national level, the framework of principles formulated to protect consumers from ill effect of the market failures and deceptions results in consumer protection policy. The formulation of consumer protection policy is not a priority for the developing countries in view of more urgent targets within their national policy planning to achieve economic growth and reduce poverty. The politics of business in developing countries result in dominant position of the sellers being more organized and having resources and information at their command. The consumers on the other hand are ill organized, lack resources and relevant information, resulting in absence of resistance by civil society against onslaught of sub-standard products and services.
Consumer protection is an institutional mechanism, based on enactment of legislation followed by establishment of grievance redressal system. In developed world, this sequence is preceded by efforts to raise awareness about its benefits. The stakeholders in the process are the consumers, civil society, government, and businesses. But, in Pakistan the legislation and its implementation has preceded an organized effort to raise awareness about the act.
PAGE: WHAT IS THE STATE CONSUMER PROTECTION LAWS IN PAKISTAN?
KAUKAB IQBAL: The legislative process to introduce consumer protection in Pakistan resulted in enactment of legislation in three provinces and federal area except for Sindh province where the ordinance has lapsed thrice till now. In Punjab, the provincial assembly passed the Punjab consumer protection Act in 2005. Under the Act, institutional mechanism started working in March 2007. At the apex of the institutional system is the Provincial Consumer Protection Council with representation in equal numbers from both public and private sectors. The council will gather data and information to eradicate hazardous and unhealthy product and services and will make efforts to remove these items from trade and commerce. The council will also review recommendations from district councils and get these suggestions implemented.
The consumer court presided by judges will adjudicate complaints pertaining to claim of damages/compensations. The salient features of the Act includes complaints against services besides products with few exceptions, time limit of six months for decisions by the court, easy method of filing complaints, no court fee and grant of unlimited damages. Besides, judicial system, a quasi-judicial system with district coordination officer as authority, can impose fine up to Rs50,000 and inquire into hazardous and unhealthy products and services. Alternate dispute resolution system is also available under the Act.
PAGE: HOW MANY CONSUMER COURTS ARE WORKING IN PAKISTAN?
KAUKAB IQBAL: The district consumer courts and councils have been established in eleven districts of the province including Lahore, Gujranwala, Sialkot, Gujrat, Rawalpindi, Sargodha, Faisalabad, Sahiwal, Multan, Dera Ghazi Khan and Bahawalpur. Nearby districts are covered by these courts and plans include establishment of consumer courts in all the districts of the province.
In the past, existing legislations, regulatory laws, and departmental complaint redressal systems did not provide redressal of complaints especially for ordinary consumers and they were at the mercy of the expatiators. This CAP provides a platform for the consumers to lodge their complaints in a cost effective manner. The civil society play crucial role in protection of rights of every citizen in a society. It builds pressure on the policy makers to realize the need for change and to collectively work towards empowering citizens. As consumer protection is a part of human rights agenda, it requires wholehearted effort from the civil society to bring changes in the attitude of the society as a whole and provides basis for creating suitable environment for inclusion of consumer protection in the national policy framework.
PAGE: ARE YOU SATISFIED WITH THE IMPLEMENTATION OF CONSUMERS' PROTECTION LEGISLATIONS?
KAUKAB IQBAL: A lot of grey areas may emerge like role of regulatory bodies, mohtasib, departmental redressal mechanism and price control system vis-a-vis consumer protection system. Precise legislation, utilization of every forum for redressal of complaints by citizens and clear mandate of various agencies involved will make the consumer protection system effective and efficient for the benefit of ordinary citizens.
The present scenario of implementation of consumer laws is besieged by various challenges like raising awareness among public to get relief from the implementation system, build capacity in the system to develop procedures and laws which are compatible with our social environment, take business interest along, and motivate civil society to build pressure for changing policy discourse towards consumer oriented policy making and need to educate younger generation of consumers, rural consumers and women in order to build future support base for a consumer centered struggle.
The facilitation of consumers is the primary objective of this public welfare legislation introduced by government of Punjab. Its success or otherwise will depend on its proper utilization by citizens of the province through lodging complaints and claiming their rights.
PAGE: HOW MANY GOVERNMENT AUTHORITIES HAVE CONSUMERS PROTECTION DEPARTMENTS?
KAUKAB IQBAL: State Bank of Pakistan has taken several measures to redress public grievances against banks/DFIs viz. (i) issuance of instructions to banks to setup complaint resolution mechanism, (ii) establishment of Banking Mohtasib and (iii) providing redressal through dedicated Redressal Division at Consumer Protection Department.
Pakistan Telecommunication Authority (PTA) launched a comprehensive complaint handling mechanism on 24th July 2009. Consumer Protection Department at PTA has received and effectively redressed more than 80,000 individual consumer complaints since its establishment. While building up the edifice of consumer protection, PTA issued Consumer Protection Regulations, Anti-SPAMs Regulations to control the obnoxious & unsolicited calls and subscribers verification regulations. In order to encourage dialogue and input from all stakeholders, PTA arranged a public forum in Karachi on 7th August, 2009 and similar events are also in the pipeline for other cities.