consumer protection

Competition and consumer watchdog needed

In the wake of the alleged power rate fixing scandal in electricity markets and unsafe practices among transport operators, it is time for a competition watchdog to protect the rights of consumers.

Given the penchant for regulatory capture that appears to have occurred among our transport and energy authorities, a commission dedicated to protect consumers and markets, in general, against anti-competitive predatory behaviour is needed.

So far the proposals for anti-trust legislation do not contain any provision for a dedicated watchdog with the powers to investigate complaints and penalise companies found guilty of breaching the consumer protection act.

In a country like the Philippines whose government agencies are prone to capture by vested interests, to the detriment of the rights and interests of consumers, a consumer advocate and competition watchdog would provide an additional check on the powers of industry regulators who often end up in the back pockets of big business.

The United States has its Federal Trade Commission, the European has an antitrust regulator, the Canadian government has a Competition Bureau and the Australian government has its Competition and Consumer Commission. These agencies protect consumers against fraud, deception and unfair business practices.

The promotion of consumer welfare is an area that is neglected in the Philippines. In the case of the transport sector, a recent road accident that killed 22 passengers could have been prevented if the bus operator followed road rules and did not endanger the lives of commuters. In the case of the energy sector, the alleged collusion among providers might have been prevented if there was a credible threat against unfair practices.

The same could be said of airlines, shipping, cement and a host of other industries. It is time to put the era of robber barons and booty capitalists behind us.

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