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ABC RADIO AUSTRALIA Updated April 14, 2010 07:17:17
Consumer Council Fiji says relaxed import standards have made Fiji a dumping ground for faulty or sub-standard products. The Council also says a culture of silence among consumers means many businesses are breaking consumer protection laws and getting away with it. In a first step towards correcting the situation, the Commerce Commission in Fiji announced it's investigating price mark-ups and price fixing amongst hardware retail outlets.
Presenter: Kate McPherson
Speaker: Premila Kumar, CEO, Consumer Council Fiji
KUMAR: It has come to a stage where consumers can no longer afford a shelter and our investigation was based on a very simple house that one wants to make and then we did calculations of every item, starting from nails to roofing irons, and we highlighted those issues mainly after a cyclone.
MCPHERSON: You said recently the consumers in Fiji are too complacent and keep quiet about abuse?
KUMAR: If you look at the culture in Fiji, we call it culture of silence. In other words, there is high tolerance level with the people here who will not complain if there is a problem. They will just sit back and expect someone else to address the issue without even raising it. So I made the statement in that particular sense.
MCPHERSON: So what are your main concerns? Can you give me some examples of some of the problems that you're seeing in Fiji?
KUMAR: Okay, the most common problem that we see is conditional selling. Whenever there is a shortage of a particular item in the market place, say for example, recently we had a sugar shortage, immediately the traders notices on the wall saying that if you do shopping say up to $30 worth, then you entitled to one kilogram of sugar. So that is conditional selling, where consumers are being forced to buy other things in order to get 1 kilo of sugar.
Other key problems is the type of food items sold in the supermarket. Just last week, we picked up a product which was expired almost a year ago and still sitting on the shelf and then we are getting products which is in other languages, which consumers cannot understand. There is no particular standards for the importers to comply with. Recently, with the number of fire outbreaks, like some of the houses going up on fire, the National Fire Authority has identified that it is also related to substandard electrical appliances.
MCPHERSON: So those appliances have been coming in from overseas and they have not been monitored for quality, is that right?
KUMAR: Yeah, that is what I am trying to say. Yeah.
MCPHERSON: Yeah, so on that issue of imports, Fiji has sometimes been called a dumping ground for inferior products. How can you overcome that problem?
KUMAR: The first step for any awareness raising program is really to hit the issue all the time and that is what we are doing. We have been doing that for the last four years where we are saying that look, Fiji has become a dumping ground. So rather than being in denial that there is no problem, people have started recognising that there is a problem with inferior quality products. And what we have seen is recently there has been a lot of letters appearing in the letter to editor column on standards and quality. Now, where is the solution? The solution definitely lies with the standards making and standards enforcement.
MCPHERSON: So what about consumer protection laws? Does that come into it?
KUMAR: Yeah, in this particular case, we're talking about standards, so our law does not really protect there. What we need is standards, but these standards should be made mandatory and if it is made mandatory, it would mean that at the border control, the product would be tested and seen that it complies with Fiji's standards and if it does, then it will be allowed to enter the market, otherwise it will be rejected