A rice importer was penalised by authorities for cheating. The importer had been repackaging inferior rice under different labels to turn a quick profit. Thankfully, a vigilant consumer reported this malpractice, leading to the perpetrator’s apprehension.

The authority’s action should teach lessons to those who seek easy gains through deceit. Cheating to maximise profit is as old as the business of buying and selling itself. Some benefit, some lose and life goes one. But it is changing. It must.

Consumers need to be protected, particularly when our dependence on imported goods, including essentials, are increasing by the day. The most basic items to prepare a simple meal on our shelves are imported. What is inside the package is not checked, the quantity not questioned granting the leeway to importer and retailers. 

A lot of things are taken for granted here. A consumer complaining of diluted milk supplied to his home, for instance,  would mellow down with the joke of the milking cow drinking too much water. Not anymore. With awareness and education, consumers are questioning what they buy or eat. This is a healthy trend. Their actions could help many unaware of their rights or responsibilities.

We have authorities tasked for the protection of consumers. Alerting them has ripple effects like controlling price, ensuring quality and safety. Unfortunately, there is much to be done. The responsibility falls on all of us. 

Shortage of human resources and budget is shortening the hands of the authority. They cannot be everywhere to monitor or investigate. They rely on the complaints and evidence to take actions. What we, as consumers, could do is to report if we are cheated or treated unfairly.

This, unfortunately, is happening on a daily basis at all levels. If cheaper imported rice is repackaged and sold at a higher price, spurious products have flooded our market, some even risking lives. Most of the branded products that come into Bhutan, suppliers admit vary. We can have a brand of electric wires that is manufactured in Delhi, Siliguri or at the company’s manufacturing house. All is not in the name when it comes to import.

The recent fine imposed on the rice importer serves as a clarion call. And the message is that if we feel wronged and complain, with evidence, authorities can take action. However, it would be unfair for authorities to wait for complainants.  Many are unaware and will not waste time and energy to complain for the fear of being  questioned and bothered.

Our authorities too could be more proactive, as our dependence on imports increases. Uncontrolled price, unchecked quality could cost us, whether it is adulterated food or quality of materials and fittings used in our houses. Most Bhutanese are taken for a ride by our partners, suppliers and our own people, who for the greed of profit, readily compromise quality.

Our authorities tasked to ensure quality and safety, fair price and consumer rights could do more. They also need the help of decision makers to equip them with the technology, human resources and many more. Do we have labs, for instance, to test if the spices or the numerous junk we import meets safety standards? Can our regulations ban the import of non-essential items that are detrimental to public health and the environment?

Finding answers to these, perhaps, could result in better protection of consumers.