Placing the consumer as the market
Finance and Economic Affairs Parliamentary Secretary
Edwin Vassallo speaks at the recent Consumer Empowerment: Benefits
to Consumer and Traders seminar organised by the Consumer and
Competition Division in collaboration with LACORS (Local Authorities
Co-ordinators of Regulatory Services). Following are extracts from his
The consumer market is constantly on the increase and
therefore the Government is working hard with both consumers and entrepreneurs
to strengthen Consumer Rights.
The priority in todays market economy is the consumer. The commercial
system is regulated in such a way as to serve the consumer. The law
that regulates the duties of entrepreneurs is in fact the same law that
governs the rights of the consumers. Intrinsically, the law that regulates
the rights of consumers also regulates commercial activities and this
is a result of the fact that the market economy is built on the principle
that whoever is in commerce must be able to supply the latest product
and service at the best price to whoever needs it.
In Malta we have a number of laws that regulate consumer rights. The
enforcement of these laws is monitored by the Consumer Competition Division.
Nowadays, the officers of this division are leaders in their field and
are amongst the most important speakers in this area. I am pleased to
say that they are constantly being trained so that they may be able
to fulfil their duties in the best possible way.
May I add that the interests of the consumers are the same as those
of the entrepreneurs. The two interests are not conflicting; on the
contrary, they complement each other. I am stressing this because I
do not want anyone to continue to think that the interests of consumers
run contrary to those of whoever is in business.
I am convinced that a lot of valid work has been carried out by the
Department of Consumer Affairs, but we cannot continue to develop this
work if there are still workers in this sector who remain of the opinion
that we can only strengthen consumer rights by creating tension between
the consumers and the shop owners. This attitude does not make sense
and we must fight this prejudice. We must also try to fight any prejudices
that owners of businesses may in turn have against consumers.
With regards to the work carried out by the Consumer and Competition
Division, I would like to refer to the synergy exercise that is being
carried out between this division, the Commerce Division, the MSA and
the Market Surveillance. This is being done because, as a Government,
we want to continue to improve the structures that allow us to support
the business sector. This allows us to achieve a sustainable economy
and creates more employment. This is already being done by Governments
of member states of the European Union, and, in the same way, Malta
must start to improve the services it offers in the Internal Market.
In order to have a viable Internal Market we must have structures with
people who are capable of listening, understanding and helping all those
involved in entrepreneurship. However, the internal market does not
only consist of the businessman, but also of the consumer. Therefore,
improvements in the Internal Market must not only be geared at the entrepreneur
but also at the consumer. The development of the market is in the interest
of each department and therefore of each official. Nowadays every person
involved in this decision-making process is starting to realise that
he or she can rely on the support of his colleagues, even those who
work in different entities within the structures built to assist the
In order to reach this synergy, and to have the consultation structure
fully functioning by the end of November, every effort is being made
to have continuous dialogue between the officials who will be representing
their Departments in meetings abroad. Further talks are being held amongst
those members who represent their Department on local committees, and
also amongst the high officials of these entities, who are meeting regularly
to allow each official to be kept informed of the work and objectives
of the respective Departments. I will also be in direct contact with
each entity so that together we may develop and implement a working
plan with the following objectives:
That each entity may work to improve the conditions of the entrepreneurs
That there may be a reduction in bureaucracy
That more and better information may be provided
In this way each entity will be working individually and yet
in synergy with the other departments. I am convinced that in this way
we will be improving not only the conditions for investors in our market,
but also the services being offered to consumers. This working plan
is being prepared and will be implemented in the shortest time possible.
At the same time, the implementation of this plan will also facilitate
the implementation of the European Charter for SMEs.
I am already working in collaboration with the Consumer Division to
develop a system that goes beyond what is required from these entities
by law. In this way, the work protected by this entity will be stronger
and will reach its fulfilment.
This working plan will allow the Consumer Division to remain in the
forefront in the protection of consumer rights, and I propose that the
objectives of this work be the following:
Education towards a culture that recognises the importance of
the protection of consumer rights. This education must be carried out
in schools, on the media and with the business sector.
A continuous analysis of the effectiveness of the laws that govern
both consumers and competition.
Work to develop interest in creating more consumer groups
A continuous analysis of the work of the Departments forming
part of the Commerce Division, the MSA, and the Consumer Competition
Division in order to analyse the efficiency with which customers resorting
to these departments are being served
A continuous analysis of the prices of essential products and
services, with the publishing of reports showing how these prices are
An analysis of the social effect that consumerism is leaving
on the Maltese society
An analysis of the changes in spending and other consumer trends
An analysis of the efficiency of the service offered by Authorities
and Departments to their clients
According to the Household Budgetary Survey 2001, the total disposable
income of the Maltese families, is around 1,050 million Maltese Liri
per annum. This is an average of 8,202 Liri per family. According to
this survey, the average family is made up of three members.
If this disposable income is spread over the population, the average
disposable income per person is around Lm2,722.
These figures give an indication of the size of the Maltese market.
This means that if the Maltese people spend all their net income, the
potential of the Maltese market in 2000 was of Lm1,050 million. However,
apart from this figure, in order to more accurately calculate the Maltese
consumer market, one must also add the amounts spent by the Government,
businesses and foreigners on Maltese consumer products.
As you may see, work in this sector is vast but interesting. I hope
that this work will provoke further realistic discussions in the market.
Not discussions where one side is working against the other, but talks
in which the two sides may work together. For this reason we are also
striving to have more entrepreneurs as members of business groups, and
in the same way we must strive to have more consumers forming part of
I am satisfied that I am co-ordinating this work, I am also satisfied
that I am working hand in hand with the officials forming part of this
decision-making process, and for this reason I am confident that together
we will be able to improve the services offered to our market. In this
way, Malta will have a market that is capable of fulfilling the demands
of the consumers, while creating opportunity for sustainable commerce
and investment in this