Fabian Demicoli

GRTU objects to Government’s patronizing of consumer affairs

 On the occasion of the Consumer Day, which in Europe this year is dedicated to "sustainable consumption in a time of crises", in Malta the Malta Competition and Consumer Affairs Authority (MCCAA) prefers to steer away from sustainability and insists on its never ending patronisation of consumer affairs.

In a day long conference marking European Consumer Day as a Europe-wide event in Copenhagen nowhere during the excellent speeches of Commissioners, European Consumer Representatives and other distinguished guests was any reference made to the stagnant and ancient practices we see in Malta. In Malta our authorities still speak in terms of price fixing, watchdog on retailers and consumer affairs patronisation. The conference emphasised on moving the focus away from pricing to quality, flexibility, innovation, and sustainability. It focused on moving away from the perception of consumers as passive buyers and empower them to act as confident and assertive market players.

Government is in itself a major player as the largest service provider and is therefore subject to a lot of reactions from consumers. Government institutions should however be of a regulatory nature. It is most unfair that Government gives the impression that consumer affairs issues are all related to private business matters and indeed increasingly takes an anti-business approach, as is clearly the attitude of MCCAA on most issues.

MCCAA is acting with a strong bias against retailers and business in general and hardly ever does it offer services or support to retailers as it perceives itself as a consumer affairs institution. Now MCCAA is going even further by publishing a Consumer Affairs magazine, a role which squarely belongs to private independent consumer associations who have freedom to analyse all consumer affairs issues.

GRTU believes that the competitive structure of the Maltese market still suffers from a number of uncompetitive restrictive practices that negatively effect small enterprises. It would make more sense for MCCAA to hold more consultations and take an active role as a Competition Authority. Being a Competition Authority MCCAA should study and act on the identification and eradication of the bottlenecks that keep excessively high costs in practice in various stages of the supply chain and that eventually end as higher prices to consumers. The reality is that MCCAA functions for consumers while where retailing is concerned it leaves much to be desired.

"Most of these bottlenecks and excessive costs are imposed by state owned authorities that operate on cost-plus system of pricing, irrespective of the damage they inflict on Malta's competitive supply structure. Yet MCCAA continues to act regardless of what the real needs are, does not consult or rarely does, the private sector not even on issues under discussion at EU level and continues to dedicate most of its actions and resources in populist rather than constructive actions in support of a really competitive restructuring of the local market as a functional part of the European single internal market". stated Vincent Farrugia GRTU Director General and member of European Economic and Social Committee (EESC) Single Market Production and Consumption Section (INT) bureau as well as the Internal Market and Consumer Affairs Committee of EuroCommerce, representing retail, wholesale and international trade sectors in Europe.

GRTU's Director General Vincent Farrugia as EESC member participated in the conference in Copenhagen as the official event marking this year's European Consumer Day. The European Consumer Day celebrated Sustainable consumption in a time of crises, a theme that in Malta has not been followed.

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