Posted in Legislative Research on Feb 25, 2019
I have watched and discussed with my colleagues from my office and ask suggestions from the experts about the Consumer Protection Law since it came out as a draft bill. I tried to compare the Bill with regional and ASEAN countries’ Consumer Protection Laws with the help of my colleagues. To my surprise, what I found out is these laws are very different from Myanmar Consumer Protection Bill from the core structure of the Bill down to every detail provision. I do not here mean Myanmar’s bill should be exactly the same with other countries’ Law. But we need to carefully study and compare the Bill with the existing laws of other countries. After I studied the Bill carefully I found out that the Myanmar Consumer Protection Bill only intends to resolve the conflict between manufacturers and consumers rather than to protect the consumer rights. There are many weaknesses in the Bill related to goods and services, and its enforcement section for breaching the law is an old-fashioned one.
After reviewing the bill, I asked the corresponding government department (i.e. Commerce Ministry) whether they have made sufficient surveys to collect the public opinion or not, they could not answer clearly. But with the help of Myanmar Consumers Union (an active non-government organization for consumer rights), I could discuss and explain to the general public in the public forum about the Consumer Protection Bill. After the forum, I tried as much as I could in the consumer protection activities led by Myanmar Consumers Union. In February 2019, I met with Pyithu Hluttaw (lower louse) Bill Committee members and explained about the public opinions, feedbacks and suggestions on the Bill.
From that time on, I have examined everything related to the Consumer Protection Bill from the upper house and lower house discussions to the bill committees’ explanations, and so on. And I found out that even though there are some points which I have discussed with them missing, the discussions were moving towards the good direction in favour of consumer rights.
However, one huge problem evolved. The new Consumer Protection Bill can revert into the previous situation [where there was complete lack of consumer protection]. There is a conflict between the proposals of the Amyotha Hluttaw and the Pyithu Hluttaw. The Amyotha Hluttaw proposed a provision to suspend the whole Chapter 18 up to two years after the Bill is enacted. And I also learned that after many serious discussions between Pyidaungsu Hluttaw Joint Bill committee and other stakeholders, the suspension period is reduced from two years to one year.
The Pyidaungsu Hluttaw Joint Bill Committee only invites representatives from international business organizations and government departments. It is highly questionable why they exclude the organizations which are advocating actively for consumer protection such as Myanmar Consumers Union.
You may wonder what provisions include in the Chapter 18 and why the Representatives from Amyotha Hluttaw want to suspend it up to two years. So, I want to explain about that Chapter in detail. There are 25 Chapters in the proposed Consumer Protection Bill. Out of these 25 Chapters, Chapter 18 is the one which is related to the Product brand, product type, size, net weight, net volume, number and net amount, maintenance index, usage instructions, manufactured date, expiry date, batch number and other important information. The manufacturers or sellers need to provide the consumers the required information such as usage, storage and other information of the product. Then, the consumers can choose and buy the goods and can use them safely. However, if the Pyidaungsu Hluttaw choose to suspend the Chapter 18 for one year, there will be unprecedented consequences for the consumers.
However, there is one provision which could be too demanding for immediate enforcement the Chapter 18. The clause requires manufacturers to put product descriptions or information in Burmese or jointly in Burmese and other languages. Of course, this provision of the Bill will not make any trouble for the domestic goods manufacturers but it will be a huge problem for foreign goods importers. I have known that the manufacturers need a period of 11 to 22 months to prepare goods descriptions. That’s why they demand a reasonable amount of time to translate and distribute the goods descriptions in Burmese language. Nevertheless, just for the sake of one clause about the language, if the Hluttaw decide to suspend the whole Chapter 18 of bill, rather than one clause, the bill is reverting to the previous situation after all.
Why did I say the Bill is reverting to the previous situation again and again? It is because there is already a Consumer Protection Law enacted in March 2014 before this Bill came out. Under the Chapter VII of that Law, Prohibitions for Manufacturers, there is a Section 8 - (d) which states that the information or instructions related to use shall be written in Burmese or jointly in Burmese and other languages. If the manufactures do not comply with that provision, there shall be punishment for violation of the law. Thus, the manufacturers did have enough time to prepare for Burmese language instructions and it is so suspicious how they have failed to prepare despite there is a Consumer Protection Law since 2014.
If only they have readied since then, they will not face such difficulties now. We can understand the time requirement up to a degree for preparation of goods instructions and to include in Burmese Language. However, the decision of the Hluttaw to suspend the whole Chapter 18 for one year due to one language problem is unacceptable. It is highly questionable how we would manage if there are illegal manufacturing of dangerous products which would harm the consumers. If Members of Pyidaungsu Hluttaw decided to suspend the whole Chapter of the Consumer Protection Bill and enact the Bill, there will be enormous damage to the public interest and Representatives will fail to improve the existing law. Instead, they are moving in backward direction. Therefore, instead of suspending the whole Chapter 18, I wish they listen to the people voice and do the right thing by only suspending some clauses in the Chapter 18 rather than the whole chapter.
By Win Min
U Win Min is the Program Officer of Myanmar Center for Responsible Business and Secretary No. (3) of Myanmar Consumers Union.