Thursday, June 23, 2011
The Biggest Corruption of Them All
It’s good to see corruption under attack on a wide scale. If this continues, it will have a profound impact on the nation’s values.
The modern idea that governments should make sure consumers are not deceived or cheated originated in the US during the Kennedy Administration in the 1960’s. Laws were subsequently perfected, enacted and enforced with the result that product quality and fair-dealing are virtually guaranteed in the US. In 1985, the United Nations adopted “Guidelines for Consumer Protection” for all member nations. Here are the eight basic rights that nations are urged to enforce, in Joe Am’s short-form words:
1. The Right to Safety. Products must be safe and consumers must be warned of dangers in use. Providers must advise consumers of defects and offer provisions for recall.
2. The Right to Be Informed. Providers must provide information so that consumer can make informed product choices.
3. The Right to Choose. Consumers should have a variety of options from which to choose. Competition is encouraged and monopolistic practices and price gouging are banned.
4. The Right to Be Heard. Consumers are permitted to voice complaints and have them dealt with forthrightly.
5. The Right to Satisfaction of Basic Needs. Consumers must have access to essential goods and services: adequate food, clothing, shelter, health care, education, public utilities, water and sanitation.
6. The Right to Redress. Consumers are entitled to a fair settlement of claims, including compensation for misrepresentation, shoddy goods, or unsatisfactory services.
7. The Right to Consumer Education. Consumers must be able to acquire the knowledge and skills needed to make informed choices about goods and services, while being aware of their own responsibilities.
8. The Right to a Healthy Environment. Consumers have a right to live and work in an environment which is non-threatening to the well-being of present and future generations.
The Philippines, by permitting relentless violations of these rights, confirms itself to be out of touch with kindness and fairness toward its own citizens. It is corruption in a different form, cheating for sure.
The only things standing in the way of a very different consumer experience are: (1) lack of a crystal clear endorsement of the United Nations principles by the Philippine government, and (2) lack of aggressive public advocacy lawyers. There is no doubt consumers are being cheated or provided with poor care by manipulative or authoritarian government, professional, corporate and retail organizations.
Examples of violations:
• Cellular telephone providers offer internet services and various call and text promotions, but do not provide sufficient carrying capacity to allow the services to work trouble-free. Consumers face slow service, poor access, or interrupted service and do not get the value for which they pay.
• Television stations increase the loudness of commercials and overload popular programming with so many advertisements that consumers are denied reasonable access to the programs they seek to watch. These are intrusive, abusive uses of a valuable and scarce resource that should be dedicated to public benefit.
• Consumers are generally not permitted to make appointments with doctors, dentists and government offices. Therefore, they must wait for long periods, frequently in crowded, germ-laden offices without sufficient seating arrangements or toilet facilities, in order to obtain important services.
• Pollution is a major problem. Trash disposal and sewerage facilities are lacking in many cities and municipalities, and open-air burning of plastics and chemicals persists, representing a severe health threat. Noise pollution is rampant.
• Public education is not free. Poor families are at a disadvantage and frequently cannot afford to send their children to school.
• Hospitals admit ill or injured people but will not release them until bills are paid. This authoritarian practice runs up additional daily charges for the poorest patients who are not only injured or ill, but desperate due to hospital policies. Furthermore, patients must acquire their own drugs and materials for vital medical treatment and operations, resulting in delays of service and the risk that proper medicines and supplies will not be available at critical times.
• Electrical service is unreliable. Brownouts and blackouts are routine. People with medical equipment must buy generators to assure themselves of life-preserving service. Refrigerated products perish and consumers bear the cost of replacement. Consumers cannot avail themselves of internet or other vital electronic services.
• Government offices are run with little courtesy. Citizens are treated as if they were irritants rather than as people who pay for government services with their taxes, and who are entitled to reasonable and polite service. Waits and paperwork remain onerous burdens.
• Consumers are forced to wait as retail merchants inspect goods in the store to make sure all parts are in working order. Then consumers are not allowed to return goods later found to be defective, or which are damaged from poor re-packing.
• No common information systems exist to alert consumers to shortages of products and goods, advising them of alternative resources or steps to take to moderate demand. Responses to shortages are haphazard and often result in panic buying or anger. Similarly, there are no broad recall protections in the case of product deficiencies.
• Product information is available on food and goods packaged overseas, but many local products lack sanitary treatment, government inspection or proper information for consumers.
• Consumers are endangered by poor enforcement of basic traffic and pedestrian regulations. Vehicles don’t stop for pedestrians in crosswalks. Commercial vehicles load in the roadway. Retail displays and parking block pedestrian access to sidewalks.
• Consumers do not have ready access to the courts because of the high cost of court fees and attorneys, and the slow, inefficient processing of cases. Efforts to rectify wrongs lose steam, and evidence grows stale, as plaintiffs face delay after delay.
Litigation is the best cure. It serves as a hammer to the head of businesses, governments and organizations that operate in a way punitive to consumers. The first case should be against the government for failure to provide prompt, and therefore fair, judicial renderings. Consumers pay a heavy price by not having a means to litigate for fair and considerate treatment.
There is an additional “spiritual benefit” to an intense effort to right these wrongs. When violators realize it is in their best interest to be kind and responsible to consumers, Filipinos will finally feel like they amount to something. They can stop overlaying their acts with Ego-bluster aimed at proving to others they are worthwhile.
All the legislature needs to do is endorse United Nation standards as law to give attorneys a sound basis for litigation. Given the pressures on private attorneys to bow to large corporations and powerful people, it would be advisable to set up a government Consumer Protection Agency staffed by capable, aggressive litigators.