Sri Lanka to devise an effective mechanism for consumer protection
An effective mechanism is to be devised to strengthen Sri Lanka’s consumer protection activism with the aim of rescuing consumers from the lobbying power of big business and utilities while creating awareness on their rights, a top official said. Damitha Kumarasinghe, Director-General of the Public Utilities Commission (PUC), told the Business Times that consumers are generally unaware of their rights and the commission is now planning to introduce a mechanism ensuring sustainability of consumer societies. “Consumer societies are easy to form but not easy to sustain because many consumers are either not aware of their rights or have no time to participate,” he said. The PUC has already set up 25 consumer societies in five provinces (five in each province) including North Western, Southern, Central, Sabaragamuwa and North Central Provinces for the benefit of electricity consumers who could gain reliable information on various fields pertaining to electricity, he revealed.
They would advise consumers on appropriate standards to be maintained for the service provided, particularly the smaller consumers. These societies would also monitor the extent to which the needs of consumers, he added. Another five societies will be formed in the Northern province on the 23rd of August he said.
Currently the PUC has the regulatory powers for the electricity sector and legislations in Water Services and Petroleum Industries are being drafted to empower PUC as the regulator of those industries, Mr. Kumarsinghe said. He said the Ceylon Electricity Board should protect consumers and in case, it is unable to provide a streamlined electricity service, the consumers would have a right to be paid compensation.
He noted that electricity connections, service co-ordinations, service standards, charges, service fees, disconnections of electricity and facilities at electricity bill paying centres must be streamlined. In case the CEB was unable to provide such services to consumers, it would be deemed to have violated the rights of the consumers, he said.
The PUC will be organizing a consumer network, to get the effective participation of consumers in the regulatory process and create awareness and disseminate information to consumers/general public on consumer rights, safety, efficient use of energy, etc and consult consumers/ public on matters relating to the regulation of the electricity industry e.g. setting of tariffs and charges, development of standards on service quality, etc. Mr. Kumarasinghe said that people’s participation is essential for the sustenance of consumer societies protect consumer rights and consumer activism in the country which were needed for effective regulation “If not, regulation will be very difficult to move forward.
People should be organized to gain their rights, they need to spend some time, and it is essential to inculcate that culture, “he said. The Consumer Consultative Committee (CCC) appointed by the PUC to protect the interest of consumers. The committee is advising the PUC on appropriate standards for the services provided to consumers; monitoring the extent to which the needs of consumers are being met; and promoting awareness of the standards prescribed and the rights of consumers with respect to such standards. This committee gets input from various consumer societies across the island. The CCC consists of fifteen (15) members, who work on voluntary basis, and their term of office is four years. The PUC has called for applications from the public to select new members as the term of the previous members will soon expire, he added.
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