If the crowd gathered at the Clock Tower Square in the capital was anything to go by, there is an uphill task for the office of consumer protection to ensure that consumers are fairly treated.
The awareness campaign on consumer rights, trading activities and protecting consumers from unfair trade practices didn’t draw a huge crowd, even if it was in the business district. The few attendees came to watch the comedians and listen to the songs. Hopefully, they got the message.
But the event organised was one of the most important awareness campaigns that could affect all, sellers and buyers both. It has been decades since people have complained about unfair trade practices – starting from not following the maximum retail price, to selling expired goods, and not receiving receipts for goods purchased.
Nothing much could be done although attempts were made. A common reason, and valid too, was that there was no legislation to clamp down on cheats. The awareness campaign was organised to make people understand the Consumer Protection Rules and Regulations, 2015.
This is an important regulation, because it now gives authorities the legal teeth in protecting consumers and ensuring fair trade practices. But to repeat the old cliché, it needs two hands to clap. There may be a rule in place, but if consumers are least bothered about reporting unfair practices, or complacent about not even asking receipt for goods purchased, the rule will remain only on paper.
This is the time to help ourselves by helping authorities implement the rule. The average Bhutanese customer is still naïve and therefore vulnerable to exploitation. Even the so-called educated ones do not, for instance, count change, ask for receipts, and check quality or price. Even with a rule, if this complacency continues, we will continue to be vulnerable to exploitation.
The rule is welcomed, and so is the awareness campaign. Relevant organisation should continue to do so until it sinks in with the people. In fact, this is one rule that people should readily accept and contribute towards its implementation. With awareness through mass media and campaigns, it will pick pace.
The government should not miss this opportunity. It may not be our habit to ask for receipts, even if we spend in the thousands, but making issuing of receipts mandatory will ensure correct basis for taxation, and therefore increase revenue to the government coffers.
Today, business income tax for micro businesses, like shops, is estimated on physical inspection of goods. This is not accurate and may even border on evasion of taxes.
We cannot change overnight, and thus need time before both consumers and sellers are aware of the regulations. There are challenges in implementing rules. Making people aware will make it easier.
A start has been made from the four thromdes, which is logical. This is a time for all, especially the literate population, to be involved in the issue that affects us all.