So How Much Bite Do Consumer Groups Have?

By Sakini Mohd Said

KUALA LUMPUR (Bernama) -- So expensive. Thus was the echo of consumers after the implementation of price rationalisation on cooking oil on Nov 1.

From that date onwards, subsidies for cooking oil were withdrawn except for those in one kilogramme packets. The prices for the commodity that were previously between RM13 and RM14.70 for a 5kg bottle rose between RM6 and RM9, an increase described by many as exorbitant.

The price restructuring of this basic necessity under the Cooking Oil Price Stabilisation Scheme naturally drew public flak.

There was also a lot of confusion among consumers when traders set different prices for the same volume.

This has caused many to voice out their discontent. Their grievances were heard by various NGOs who then pushed for a new mechanism to determine the price of cooking oil.

Their complaint was eventually acknowledged by the government when the Deputy Prime Minister Datuk Seri Dr Ahmad Zahid Hamidi asked the Ministry of Domestic Trade, Cooperatives and Consumerism to look into the proposal of the NGOs.

ACKNOWLEDGEMENT

The success is not the first for consumers.

Be it exorbitant rise in prices, poor service, security or legal issues, consumer associations have done a lot to protect the rights, interests and welfare of consumers in the country.

"Consumer associations are non-profit organisations that play an important role in protecting majority of consumers from being taken for a ride," said the Dean of the Faculty of Human Ecology of Universiti Putra Malaysia, Professor Dr Laily Paim.

Enforcement agencies and state governments have taken note of the active involvement and the strong voice of such NGOs that the latter often consulted upon in policy-making discussions.

In fact, they are consulted even before the national budget announcement or prior to the drafting or amendment of acts on consumerism.

NEARLY 100 CONSUMER ASSOCIATIONS

The first NGO to advocate for consumer rights was the Selangor Consumer Association, which was formed in 1965.

The 70s saw a rise in the number of consumer groups. Today, there are consumer associations in every state.

Statistics provided by the Registry of Societies Malaysia (ROS) showed there are 57 consumer associations in Malaysia from 2013 to 2016.

ROS also explained in its reply to Bernama's query that the associations were considered active as long as their registration were not struck off or cancelled under Section 13 of the Societies Act 1966.

However, a check with the ROS website with Fomca's assistance revealed that there are more than 90 registered and active consumer associations. Fomca stands for Federation of Malaysian Consumers Associations (FOMCA).

The presence of these consumer associations for the past half a century have helped more consumers realise their rights and responsibilities.

Yet, there are many more consumer associations in the country that hardly anyone has heard off. This is probably because the complete list could not be accessed without the required keywords.

MORE THAN ONE

To obtain the complete list of consumer associations from the RoS website, a user must key in several keywords, such as 'pengguna' (consumer), 'persatuan pengguna' (consumer association), perlindungan pengguna' (consumer protection), 'pembangunan pengguna'(consumer development), 'kebajikan pengguna' (consumer welfare) and 'hak pengguna'(consumer rights).

The results will feature consumer associations in every state, district and even cities.

This is rather surprising as the ones that are commonly heard about are only a few, such as Fomca, Persatuan Pengguna Islam Malaysia (PPIM), Malaysian Consumer and Family Economics Association (Macfea), Pertubuhan Pembimbing Kewangan Pengguna dan Keluarga Malaysia (KPM).

At the state level, there is the Consumer Association of Penang (CAP), Persatuan Keselamatan Pengguna Kuala Lumpur (PKPKL), Consumer Association of Kedah (CAKE) and district level associations like the Consumers' Association of Subang and Shah Alam (Cassa).

There are then the specialised associations and state associations under Fomca like the Consumer Affairs and Protection Society of Sabah (CAPS), Forum Air Malaysia (FAM), Persatuan Pengguna-Pengguna Standard Malaysia (Pengguna Standard) and several other NGOs.

These are the associations popular with the media when it comes to getting quotes or commentary on consumer rights issues.

DUPLICATION OF EFFORTS

Maybe the others are keeping a low profile? However, when inquired with the media colleagues in the states over their status, most of the consumer bodies at best are inactive.

"Many of the NGOs in the states only serve as a stepping stone for those with political aspirations. Maybe there are one or two that are active. However, we have to be cautious as some just shoot from the hip, without checking their facts. The others are dormant, even if we are to get a reaction on issues it is from the people themselves," they said.

"There are too many associations probably due to the geographical factor, different goals and focus. However, their numbers are immense hence there are many that is never heard off.

"State consumer organisations are good as they serve as effective conduit in channeling the complaints. However, there should be more than one in each state to avoid duplication of efforts," said Laily to Bernama.

UMBRELLA BODY

However, Laily wonders why all the state consumer organisations are not under Fomca, a national umbrella consumer body established in 1973? Through Fomca, the consumer associations could work with a single voice.

However, so far, only 14 associations have come under Fomca with seven of them from the states. The others, are organisations specialising in certain fields, like water and transport.

Explaining further, FOMCA's Deputy President, Mohd Yusof Abdul Rahman, noted that the consumer related organisations were not compelled to join Fomca.

When asked of the crowded field and the many cheating cases including ponzi schemes, scratch and win still occurs, Yusof noted that Fomca has no objections on their numbers but they have to have clear objectives in advocating consumer rights.

As far as Fomca is concerned, only an active Ngo could work effectively. "Unfortunately, financial constraints have limited the activities of NGOs like us," he said.

No matter what, the voice of the consumer association is still needed. They are the saviour and protectors of the people against unscrupulous traders and scams. Only that its time to limit their numbers.

BERNAMA