Tuesday 10 June 2014

Consumer Protection is Long Overdue in Kurdistan

Talib Murad

On Tuesday evening (3rd June) I went to shop in the Majdy shopping mall in Erbil. This complex has a hypermarket and many brand name outlets as well but I was shopping for food and household goods. Whenever, and wherever, I shop for food products I check the expiry date of the product, manufacture’s details and of course the price. I found that as usual the cost of food was inflated especially the cost of imported food products. Perhaps it is no surprise to know that in Kurdistan there is no organization that deals with consumer protection apart from the government’s checks with regard to the cleanliness of restaurants and the expiry dates of food and of course most of the food products on sale here are imported.

When I went to the checkout there was only one young Kurdish boy working there and the rest of the staff were of Indian nationality and this prompted me to go through the checkout where the young Kurd was working and to ask a few questions. I simply asked him what was the ratio of Kurdish to non –kurds and foreign shoppers using the supermarket? He called to another Kurd working in the shop to come and answer the query. Between them they told me that only 4 out of every 10 customers are Kurds and the remainder from southern Iraq . They laughed and told me that the number of Kurds using the market had dropped because, as everyone knows, no salaries had been paid in Kurdistan for the last three months and only those from the south or elsewhere had money to spend.

 I went into several of the brand name outlets, such as Levi, Clarks and Adidas where I discovered that there was only one Kurdish salesman and the rest were from south Iraq. In addition theses people told me that only two out of ten of their customers are Kurds. The difference for these outlets is not only due to the fact that so many Kurds have not received a salary in recent months but that those who are rich enough go to Europe and elsewhere to obtain their goods.

This lack of Kurdish shoppers is a direct result of the disruption to regular salary payments to so many Kurds over the last five months and another sector that reflects the result of this is the building trade. Since the beginning of 2014 the building sector has seen monthly trade drop to only 25% of last year’s figures.

In Kurdistan 8 Capsules sold for 5000 ID=2.50 Pounds
While the money in the pockets of so many is reduced daily the cost of food and other goods is raised by those out to make as a large a profit as possible. I was shocked to discover that the cost of a packet of Paracetemol tablets, made in the UK, is almost a three times more that it is in Britain. In the UK I buy packet of 16 Caplets ( capsules)  Paracetemol for UK £1.50 but here in Kurdistan I must spend UK £2.50 to buy a packet of 8 capsules.

 In UK (heavy taxes)16 Capsules
sold in supermarkets for 1.5 Pounds 
I have lived in many developing countries and have never seen such an inflation of costs in a peaceful country. Here traders can obtain land for business use by simply going to the governmental authorities, taxes are low (if there are any), they do not have to meet insurance costs and readily employ the cheap labour of the poor from Nineveh, Syria and Iran so I wonder just how high their profits can be in a market that is just a free for all. There needs to be a consumer protection agency that monitors not only food quality but ensures that fair prices are charged for goods here.
Bills given to consumers with
foreign languages
 Around six years ago, when Mr. Adnan Mufti was Speaker of the KRG parliament, a law was about to pass to protect consumer rights but as yet nothing has been done to finalized this law.

We desperately need action to be taken to enforce legal protection of consumers’ rights and, in addition, payment of long overdue salaries to stimulate the stagnant economy.

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