Fomca fully supports the National Community Policy as a means to strengthen consumers’ rights and responsibilities at the community level. One of the eight universal consumer rights is the right to be heard; that is, for the consumers to voice their concerns and the need for government to take full cognisance of these concerns.
In consumer rights, we often focus on basic needs – food, housing, transport, healthcare and other cost of living issues – but the role of consumers in a democracy should not be neglected. Not only do consumers have a right to voice their concerns, the government has a responsibility to listen and respond positively to these concerns.
While in some communities there are well-organised Rukun Tetangga groups or resident associations, most communities lack such structures and mechanisms to make heard the voice of the consumer/resident. Through the community policy, it is expected that in every urban community, mechanisms and structures can be established for seamless and vibrant communication between the community and the local authorities.
Concerns of safety and security, environmental enhancement, development and maintenance of public structure, cleanliness, community unity and community development programmes can be planned and undertaken for the greater prosperity of the community as well as the greater well-being of residents.
On the other hand, consumers and residents also have important responsibilities to ensure the cleanliness, safety and prosperity of the community. In too many communities, vandalism, destruction of public property such as lifts and playground amenities, unhealthy environments – for example, which enable the breeding of Aedes mosquitoes – haphazard parking and irresponsible dumping of rubbish continue to occur.
This selfish and destructive behaviour of a few individuals can have strong negative effects on the community as a whole. Continuous awareness and education is crucial. So is effective enforcement, especially for those who are too stubborn to change.
Fomca also hopes that beyond the basic needs of the community, developmental programmes and activities can be developed. This could include youth sports and recreation centres, childcare services, mental health support services, and support for the aged members of society. Continuous education and training should also be an integral part of community development. This could include personal development skills, consumer education, financial education, vocational skills, health education and awareness programmes on various medical and health issues.
Consumers could also collaborate by sharing information to address common issues such as the increasing cost of living. They could share where to get the best value for money or expose sellers who overcharge, and encourage their friends to boycott such retailers.
Residents could also engage with the authorities to address broader community issues. For example, if the community has no access to public transport, it could make a request to the nearest bus company and seek the support of policymakers to push for their issues.
However, we need to realise that none of this will come automatically. The government needs to invest in capacity building and empowering the community to play an effective role. The government should also play the role of facilitator and enabler to ensure that the community moves forward to become truly prosperous. If not, the policy will remain on paper instead of truly transforming the community.
Paul Selva Raj is secretary-general of the Federation of Malaysian Consumers Associations.
The views expressed are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect those of FMT.