Connect with us

Economy

Mechanism of consumer redressal in India

Published

on

Consumer protection in India has a rich history with its desirability being felt through ages. Consumer movements in India have evolved over many centuries and were finally institutionalised in 1986 with the enactment of the Consumer Protection Act, 1986. The first and foremost responsibility of the government is to ensure smooth and easy redressal of consumer grievance. If the government is futile in rectifying the atrocities of the consumers it results in consumers moving to courts and forums for their demands. To study the consumer movements in India it is important to look at the mechanism of consumer redressal present in the country which is briefly discussed in the first section of this article.

Consumers are the backbone of the economy of every country and it is the government’s job to keep the producers in check so that the consumers don’t suffer. The consumer protection laws in India are still a little vague and complex that makes them ineffective. To make the laws more effective the consumers should be made aware of their rights and obligations because the major hindrance in effectiveness of consumer protection is consumers’ obliviousness towards their rights.

Consumption has always been an integral part of any society. With the advent of hyper industrialization, there are bound to be some shortcomings that the producers have to address. To effectively make their damage good, people have to mobilize together and speak as a community.

The Consumer Protection Act, 1986 was enacted a benevolent legislation that states the rights of consumers and address the consumer redressal mechanism. It has enabled ordinary consumers to opt for speedy and less expensive redressal of their complaints.[1] Although there has been many legislations protecting consumers before independence like the Sale of Goods Act, 1930, Contract Act, 1872, this is the first time that specific attention has been given to general consumers.

The National Consumer Disputes Redressal Commission (NCDRC) was set up under Consumer Protection Act, 1986. It’s a quasi-judicial body with a President and eleven members. It has 3 types of jurisdiction i.e. Original, Appellate and revisional.[2] Under the Consumer Protection Act, NCDRC is entitled to entertain cases from Central and State governments because they qualify as “complainant” under section 2(b)(iii) of the Act. The complaints are processed under the supervision of Registrar by officers of NCDRC before placing them before the Hon’ble benches for hearing. The president is the head of the body and can distribute judges at each bench according to his discretion. Under section 23 of the Consumer Protection Act the complainant can file a review petition before the Hon’ble Supreme Court of India. The discharge of functions is governed under Consumer Protection Rules, 2017. Dept. Of Consumer Affairs allocates budget to NCDRC and the same is reflected in the Demand for Grants of Dept. Of Consumer Affairs. All the information regarding the cases, commission, statutes and workings of the Courts is available on NCDRC’s website in accordance with the Right to Information Act. All the information regarding National Commission is supplied within 30 days.

The NCDRC has the authority to entertain cases where the claimed compensation is above one crore and any appeal against state commission. It can also pass orders against the cases judged by any state commission where it feels that the proper procedure is not followed or where it feels that the court has exercised a power ultra vires.

Role Of NGOs Towards Consumer Protection

Consumer protection is of superlative importance in India as the population if India is ever increasing. They demand variety of goods and services every day, and there is an ever-increasing demand. Here we can see the number of cases filled by the consumers in the year 2017-18. This drastic improvement in the filing of the cases is because the awareness which is being spread through various forums, like advertisements, booklets, rallies, social media, and various other platforms. Here we take a brief look at what consumer protection entails in India.

NGOs have always been an integral part of the consumer movements in India and all over the world. They have paved the path for generating the awareness towards consumer rights violations as well as instilled the sense of justice in the people for claiming compensation for the same. The role of NGOs or consumer organizations is of paramount importance because, a general consumer is not always aware of his rights and even if they are, they don’t have enough means or understanding of the working of the various procedures laid by the law. The Consumer Protection Act 1986 has made it very opportune for the consumers to file cases and claim damages but this is mostly unknown to the actual consumer population, hence keeping them in the dark. NGOs come into play here. There are various NGO throughout India who work toward consumer protection. Some of the famous NGOs are VOICE, Common Cause, Consumer Awareness, Protection and Education Council of Karnataka, Consumer Guidance Society India.The need for NGO and self-regulatory authorities in the implementation of consumer rights is of supreme standing. They are needed because:

Awareness

One of the main reasons for the lack of awareness regarding consumer protection is the lack of education and vigilance. Education facilitates awareness. Due to the lack of education the consumers suffer silently without claiming for the implementation of their rights. The graph of the survey undertaken by CUTS International, depicts the lack of awareness among the consumer population.[3]

A survey was done by CUTS International to test the awareness of the Indian consumer, followings were the findings:[4]

  • Awareness regarding the various government schemes.
  • 20% were aware about the consumer protection act.
  • More than 50% were not even aware of the “Jago Grahak Jago” campaign.
  • 40% were aware about the food safety act.
  • TARI was recognized by 27% of the people, Electricity Regulatory Commission was recognized by 26%.

Urban dwellers are more aware about their rights, hence NGOs should work at the ground level with the villagers to spread awareness regarding their rights.

Research:

For representation of their grievances efficiently in the consumer court, consumers need to have the sufficient knowledge and skill for conducting the research. Many if the consumer grievances can be resolved with various surveys and studies. Now certain organization is researching the lead content in the children toys. These types of studies can only be conducted with proper research and skill. This is a skill which needs practice to be developed. Hence with the help of NGOs consumers can file and contest cases resourcefully. a consumer cannot always conduct various lab tests or advanced research which needs capital as well as the knowledge, here the NGOs can do this and help pace the implementation the consumer rights. In the graph below, it represents the awareness of the consumers regarding various laws in place. Given that the consumers are not well acquainted with any of them comprehensively, the need for NGOs to help them regarding research is imperative. 

Counselling:

The consumers are not always aware of the laws designed for them; with NGOs the legal aid becomes more accessible to the general public. NGOs can find and appoint people who are well conversant with the laws of the land and can represent and help them file cases. Additional to this, they observe the implementation of laws by the local authorities which were passed by the legislators. They can file public interest litigation cases and work towards representing the common sentiment of the people in the court.

Publication and media:

The consumer movement gained traction due to the various awareness drives organized by the NGOs. They pressurize the government on spreading awareness. We see advertisements like “Jago Grahak Jago” on television and we see numerous booklets, reports etcetera. Through these the consumers can communicate their grievances and raise their voice against the mal practices. In today’s digital and tech savvy world they operate blogs and online portals to keep in touch of the ground level reports and encourage the consumers to use this means to contact them for help. They also conduct various public meeting to advocate for consumerism and conduct open negotiations where the consumer community can meet and discuss their concerns. Some sources state that the consumers are more likely to be educated about their consumer rights through the televisions.[5]

Unanimous representation of the NGOs

There are many NGOs in across India. If all the NGOs will unanimously come under a same banner and take the consumer movement forward, then the movement will be more effective than it is today due to the region-specific approach of the NGOs. Along with addressing the problems of the people at the ground level, they should come together and file PILs which will gain traction and impose pressure on the government to take swift action.

PILs filled by the NGOs’:

The most efficient way to make the voice of the consumer heard is through the means of law. There are many cases filled daily, here we will discuss some of the landmark judgments of the PILs filled by the NGOs.

Afcons Infrastructure Ans Ors.v. Cherian Verkay Construction And Ors.– In this case, the court held that arbitration agreement is mandatory for dispute adjudication. At any point in the suit, the court cannot force the parties to go for necessary adjudication. The consent of both the parties is important for arbitration under section 89 of CPC.

Indian Medical Association vs V.P. Shantha & Ors.– In this case, it was held that doctors will come under the purview of Consumer Protection Act even though they are regulated by Indian Medical Association. So, medical negligence was made inexcusable.

Lucknow development authority v. MK Gupta – In this case, the Supreme Court held that all the functions rendered to consumers come under the definition of Consumer Protection Act. Even if the service is provided by statutory authorities the consumers are entitled to compensation.

Role of the government

The beginning of the consumer movement in India dates back to 1960s and the 1970s when there were rampant practices of unprincipled and unfair trade practices like food shortages, black marketing, hoarding, adulteration of food materials and edible oil. All of it led to a consumer movement being propagated, till then the limited consumer organizations were just involved in writing articles and booklets. There was no legal system in place to hold the seller accountable and the maxim “caveat venditor” has no legal standing. It was always the responsibility of the consumer to be aware of the product or service they are subscribing to. The consumer movement around the world took acceleration and India was behind. Due to the pressure and active pursuing of the NGOs and self-regulating authorities a monumental step was taken by the Indian government and it passed the Consumer Protection Act 1986 in the 1986 Session of the Parliament. This legislation became a milestone in the societal and commercial legislations in the country. In addition to this many laws were legislated to cater to the interests of implementing the consumer rights, some include Standards of Weights and Measures Act, MRTP Act, Essential Commodities Act and Prevention of Food Adulteration Act. But these laws were neither penal nor preemptive in approach and did not make availableprompt trials and disposalof the grievances of the pained consumers.

National consumer chair:

For the first time in history the Ministry of Consumer Affairs of India, Food and Public Distribution, Department of Consumer Affairs Government of India has set up a Consumer chair which is being headed by Prof. Ashok Patil.[6] He will be heading the chair for 3 years. This step, taken by the central government, will be monumental for the prolongation of the Consumer Movement in India. This chair has been set up to provide the consumer an efficient mode to access justice which they are entitled to.

Jago Grahak Jago:

This was an initiative started by the government of India in the year 1983.[7]This was an initiative to spread awareness among the consumers regarding various goods and services they use in their day to day life. Through this portal consumers can register complains. They also showcase numerous advertisements on the television to make the consumers aware of the unfair trade practices. The Jago Grahak Jago campaign was known to 51% of the population, due to its use of media to communicate the various remedies under the Consumer Protection Act.

National consumer helpline

13 years back, on March 2005, as a part of the “JagoGrahakJago” campaign the Department of Consumer Affairs started a consumer helpline to provide assistance to the consumers. This is to make the implementation of COPRA more efficient. The consumers can seek help regarding their grievances by just making a call to the National Consumer Helpline.

Even after much efforts by the self-regulatory authorities and the government intervention the responses received is just 21%. Hence, in India we need more efforts to spread vigilance regarding the consumer rights and their violation and the mode which need to be taken to address the concerns of the consumers. 

This is the breakdown of the areas of various consumer grievances.[8] Most complains registered by the NCH was for the E-commerce sector, 19%. Let’s look at it in detail.

Working Towards Reducing Delays And Improving Consumer Satisfaction:

Among the many items on the agenda of the government, it should also give substantial importance in reducing delays in the Consumer Court. Due to the delays the willingness of the consumers to file complains is deteriorating.

Working towards improving consumer satisfaction

The below graphs depicts the level of consumer satisfaction with the griveance redressal mechanisms, and reflects on their experience in the Consumer forum.[9] A huge proportionate of people are not completely satisfied with the mechanism at place, which gives the government sufficient reason to improve it.

E-commerce grievances

Now a days the grievances regarding the online consumer market is on a high. This is because the 21st century is pacing towards the digital age. The below graph specifies the increase in the consumer complains in the year 2015-16 and 2016-17.[10] The government can set up another helpline which will deal with these cases unambiguously.

We have a case which was filled by the Telecom Watchdog against the online giants Amazon and Flipkart. The approved that these e-commerce giants were violating the Foreign Direct Investment norms. They circumvented the FDI norms by steering popular goods at much discounted rates through proxy ‘controlled sellers’ and this cause the pushing out of the small businesses off the market. The New Delhi High Court has recently issued a notice to the two companies.

Cross National Comparison Of Consumer Attitudes

Different countries have different mechanisms in place to deal with consumer movements. While the more developed economies have an established institution regarding consumer protection, developing countries like India are still in the nascent stages to develop their consumer forums. In this section, we’ll study this same distinction and how it came into being.

The paramount step in ensuring that the rights of the consumers are protected is for the consumers to know what their rights are and how they can be enforced. In this regard, the dept. Of Education, Pennsylvania, U.S. had published a handbook titled ‘Consumer Education Organisation and Implementation’. In the context of the said Consumer Awareness, a very little literature is provided in India.[11] This difference is awareness is of prime importance in regards to improving the consumer culture in India.

Another aspect of difference between U.S. and India is the enforcement of the statutes regarding Consumer Protection. Where in the U.S. the Federal Trade Commission’s sub-unit, Bureau of Consumer Protection, is using latest technology to easily facilitate consumer protection India is still left behind in addressing the complaints. The West has developed a highly developed Artificial Intelligence systems like Robocalls and automated answering protocols that help the consumer file a complaint easily and effectively. This again ties back to the issue of the awareness of citizens about consumer rights.

Disposition of cases is another factor that plays an important role in consumer protection. Speedy disposal of cases is a must in cases of consumer protection so that the consumer doesn’t suffer. While in the United States a lot of stress is placed upon the speedy disposal of cases, in India unfortunately the process is delayed by numerous complexities such as lab tests, unavailability of dates, etc. While the specified period of disposal is three to five months in the statutes, the dates of two subsequent hearings is this much apart in India.

Consumer protection in US focuses on economics of information.  Under right information, competition would force sellers to produce high quality products which meet the safety standards in all the aspects. In India, because the right information about the safety standards is still vague and complex, most of the times there is a conflict between different laws.[12] An instance of dissemination of information is regarding an automobile’s mileage. The manufactures have to disclose the actual mileage that an automobile can give and not the mileage that the automobile would grant in the ideal condition.

Right to choice is another matter of concern for Indian consumer market. Right of choice means the availability of products at the competitive and fair price at all the places. The competitive culture of the west has developed over the centuries while in India it is still in its nascent stages. By 1969 comparative analysis of magazines had become the norm in the west. Consumer reports held a lot of stake in right to choice with led the way in the sales of magazines. In India this revolution is being brought by online platforms where the prices are constantly scrutinized and kept in check.

To maintain the pressure on the government it is important to have some consumer organisations. While there are more than 100000 registered consumer organisations in the US[13], there are about 8000 consumer organisations in India. This shows that India is far behind U.S. in terms of consumer redressal. Because of the gap between the consumer and the redressal system, most of the consumer protection doesn’t get filed. While the consumer organisations in US are making sure that all the aggrieved get justice, for the limited number of organisations in India it is difficult to get all the consumers under the spectrum of consumer protection.

Consumer forums have not been successful in tackling the increasing consumer disputes. More than 4.5 lakh cases are pending in courts that suggests the miserable condition of consumer redressal in India. To tackle this issue, the govt. have to take immediate steps such as keeping vigil on availability of judges, contribute to R&D so that lab tests doesn’t waste time of the courts, establishing more benches in each part of state throughout the country. There have been many landmark cases under the Consumer Protection Act some of which are:

  • Chief Administrator, H.U.D.A. & Anr. v. Shakuntla Devi : In this case the Supreme Court held that for entitlement to compensation it’s necessary to prove damage.
  • Charan Singh v. Healing Touch Hospital and Others: The supreme court held that damages depend on facts of each case. No rigid rule can be set for universal application.
  • Om Prakash v. Reliance General Insurance : The supreme court held that insurance company cannot reject liability on technical grounds.
  • Manjeet Singh v. National Insurance Company Ltd. & Anr.: It was held that insurance company is liable to accept liability for hijacked vehicle.
  • Shri Rajendra Agarwal v. Shoppers Stop Limited: The CCI held that individual consumer grievances cannot be treated as competition concern.
  • New India Assurance Co. Ltd. v. Hilli Multipurpose Cold Storage Pvt. Ltd.: It was held that the respondent party have to reply within 15 days.
  • Dr. M. Kochar vs Ispita Seal: NCDRC said that No cure is not medical negligence.
  • M/S Emaar MGF Land Limited & Anr. v. Aftab Singh: Supreme court held that arbitration clause does not restrict consumer from filing a complaint with consumer forum.
  • Karnataka Power Transmission Corporation v. Ashok Iron Works Private Limited: Supreme Court held that supply of electricity is not considered ‘sale’ under the Act.
  • State of U.P. and Ors. v. All U.P. Consumer Protection Bar Association: Supreme court directed all the states to draft rules and regulations for better implementation of the Consumer Protection Act.

Consumer Movements in different areas

Telecom

Usually, consumer protection in Telecom sector is imposed by licensing arrangements or telecom act. The main provisions of the act aim at improving choices for consumers, to reduce prices, achieve better quality and avoid exploitation. In JK Mittal v Union of India the Delhi high court held that the respondent is not a telegraph authority under the telegraph act, 1885. The Supreme Court had given a broad interpretation in which it said that the consumer protection act is in addition and not in derogation to any law for the time being in force. The high court of Delhi held the suit maintainable in consumer forums. Through this case it was established that the suits against private telecom companies are maintainable in consumer forums.[14]

Health Care

Health care is one of the most controversial sectors where consumer rights have to be protected. In the Consumer Protection Act, 2019 the government of India has removed the word ‘healthcare’ which was added in the draft bill. There was a huge consumer movement about the removal of word healthcare because medical negligence is an integral part of consumerism in India and by removing the word it was being interpreted that the liability of doctors is diminished, but as was expounded in the Indian Medical Association vs V.P. Shantha & Ors case, the word includes medical negligence in the new definition of services as well.[15]

Food Industry

Food industry is the 5th largest industry in India. The Food Safety and Standards Authority of India has started the Food Smart campaign to raise awareness among consumers about food safety. The landmark case of Nestle Noodles, Maggie, was a testament to right to knowledge and the right to healthy food. In the case it was reported that the noodles were not harmful to health and the lead content was well within limits.[16] This case serves as an instance where consumer movements are most effective and provide the society a perspective of the justice for consumers.

Conclusion

Through the course of this article we have seen how Consumer Movements have evolved from being just conceptualized to being institutionalized. Consumer Protection is a necessity in a consumer dominated country like India. Consumer Movements go a long way in tacking the problem of consumer protection. When the people of a country stand up against a lazy government only then can the voice of consumers be strengthened.

This article focused on the mechanism of consumer redressal in our country. Different agencies have different roles to play and the government has the duty to duly resolve all the disputes. Studying the consumer redressal mechanism in other countries we saw where we lag behind. Although our government has taken various measures to resolve Consumer Disputes, there is still a long way to go in case of consumer protection.

The role of NGOs in eradicating a social evil is of eminent importance and this is the case with consumer protection also. A lot of NGOs are striving towards providing justice to consumers. To make the work of NGOs more impactful the government has the duty to provide them with necessary funds to do so.

While the government is doing its bit, it is equally necessary for the consumers to be aware of their rights and act on them. The government can’t do anything if the consumers do not take active steps to control the problem of Consumer exploitation. Hence, it is the moral duty of both the government and the consumer to act towards Consumer Protection.


[1] National Consumer Disputes Redressal Commission, ‘History’ (NCDRC) <http://ncdrc.nic.in/history.html> accessed 29 November 2019.

[2] National Consumer Disputes Redressal Commission, ‘Details Under Right To Information Act-2005’ (NCDRC) <http://ncdrc.nic.in/rti.html> accessed 29 November 2019.

[3]CUTS International, ‘Report: State of Consumer Affairs India’(CUTS International, 2012) <http://lms.nls.ac.in/pluginfile.php/1146/mod_page/content/8/Report_State_of_the_Indian_Consumer-2012.pdf>accessed 28 November 2019.

[4]CUTS International, ‘Report: State of Consumer Affairs India’(CUTS International, 2012) <http://lms.nls.ac.in/pluginfile.php/1146/mod_page/content/8/Report_State_of_the_Indian_Consumer-2012.pdf>accessed 28 November 2019.

[5] CUTS International, ‘Report: State of Consumer Affairs India’(CUTS International, 2012) <http://lms.nls.ac.in/pluginfile.php/1146/mod_page/content/8/Report_State_of_the_Indian_Consumer-2012.pdf>accessed 28 November 2019.

[6]Apurva Singh,‘Prof. Ashok R Patil, Professor of Law, NLSIU nominated as a member of the Central Consumer Protection Council’ (SSC Online, 19 November 2018)

<https://www.scconline.com/blog/post/2018/11/19/prof-ashok-r-patil-professor-of-law-nlsiu-nominated-as-a-member-of-the-central-consumer-protection-council/>accessed 27 November 2019

[7]Government of India, ‘Jago Grahak Jago complains portal’

<http://www.jagograhakjago.com/register-complaint/>accessed 27 November 2019

[8]Government of India, ‘Consumer helpline’<https://consumerhelpline.gov.in/nch.php>accessed 29 November 2019

[9]CUTS International, ‘Report: State of Consumer Affairs India’(CUTS International, 2012) <http://lms.nls.ac.in/pluginfile.php/1146/mod_page/content/8/Report_State_of_the_Indian_Consumer-2012.pdf>accessed 28 November 2019.

[10]Government of India, ‘Consumer helpline’<https://consumerhelpline.gov.in/nch.php>accessed 29 November 2019

[11] Sanjay Kaptan, ‘Consumer Movement in India: Issues and Problems’ (Sarup & Sons, 1st edn, 2013) accessed 30 November 2019.

[12]Journal of Institutional and Theoretical Economics, ‘Regulation: Analysis and Experience in West Germany and the U.S.A.: A Symposium’ (October 1983), pp. 527-544 accessed 26 November 2019.

[13] Yakoob C., ‘A study on the impact of the consumer protection act 1986 on consumer movement, with special reference to northern districts of Kerala’ (Department of Commerce and Management Studies , University of Calicut, 1998) accessed 25 November 2019.

[14] Ashok R. Patil, ‘Consumer Protection Law’ (Annual Survey of Indian Law, The Indian Law Institute, 2016) pp. 319-346 accessed 24 November 2019.

[15]Dipak Dash, ‘Consumer bill draft removes healthcare from Services’ (Times of India, 2 June 2019) <https://timesofindia.indiatimes.com/india/consumer-bill-draft-removes-healthcare-from-services/articleshow/69935129.cms> accessed 29 November 2019.

[16] Samanwaya Rautray, ‘Maggi Controversy: SC revives govt’s case against Nestle India in NCDRC’ (Economic Times, 4 January 2019) <https://economictimes.indiatimes.com/industry/cons-products/food/supreme-court-revives-governments-case-in-ncdrc-against-nestle-india/articleshow/67363564.cms> accessed 24 November 2019.

Continue Reading
Comments

Economy

Free-Market Capitalism and Climate Crisis

Avatar photo

Published

on

st

Free market capitalism is an economic system that has brought about tremendous economic growth and prosperity in many countries around the world. However, it has also spawned a number of problems, one of which is the climate crisis. The climate crisis is a global problem caused by the emission of greenhouse gases, primarily carbon dioxide, into the atmosphere. These externalities are chiefly a consequence of day to day human activities, such as the burning of fossil fuels, deforestation, and conventional agriculture. The climate crisis is leading to rise in temperatures, sea levels, and more erratic weather patterns-The floods in Pakistan and depleting cedars of Lebanon are vivid instances for these phenomena, which are having a devastating impact on the planet.

One of the main reasons that free market capitalism has contributed to the climate crisis is that it prioritizes short-term economic growth over long-term environmental sustainability. Under capitalism, companies are primarily motivated by profit and are not required to internalize the costs of their pollution. This means that they are able to pollute without having to pay for the damage that they are causing. Additionally, the capitalist system is based on the idea of unlimited growth, which is not sustainable in the long-term. As long as there is an infinite demand for goods and services, companies will continue to produce them, leading to ever-increasing levels of pollution and resource depletion.

Another pressing issue that free market capitalism is recently going through is that it does not take into account the externalities of economic activities. Externalities are the unintended consequences of economic activities, such as pollution and climate change. Under capitalism, companies are not required to pay for the externalities of their activities, which means that they are able to continue polluting without having to pay for the damage that they are causing. In her book “This Changes Everything: Capitalism vs Climate” Naomi Klein argues that the current system of capitalism is inherently incompatible with the urgent action needed to address the Climate crisis.

To address the climate crisis, it is necessary to put checks and balances over the free market capitalism and/or make a way towards a more sustainable economic system. This can be done through a number of different effective policies, such as:

Carbon pricing: This can be done through a carbon tax or a cap-and-trade system, which would make companies pay for the carbon emissions that they are producing. In the article “The Conservative Case for Carbon Dividends” authors suggest that revenue-neutral carbon tax is the most efficient and effective way to reduce the carbon emissions.

Increasing renewable energy investments: an increment in the investments in clean energy technologies, such as solar and wind power, can result in the reduction in  the use of fossil fuels.

Regulating pollution: Governments can regulate pollution to limit the amount of greenhouse gases that are emitted into the atmosphere.

Encouraging sustainable practices: Governments can encourage sustainable practices, such as recycling and conservation, to reduce the use of resources.

It is remarkable that evolving Capitalism can be harnessed to address the climate change. The private sector has the resources and innovation to develop and implement new technologies and sustainable practices, but they need the right incentives and regulations to do so. Finding the balance between economic growth and environmental protection must be a priority for capitalists.

The free market capitalism has been the driving force behind global economic growth, but at the same time, it has contributed to the ongoing climate crisis. The solution to this problem is not to reject capitalism, but rather to reform it to the societies’ suitable demands. Government should consider providing a level playing field so as to make the probable transition from fossil-based energy systems to Green energy technologies possible. The capitalists should not consider short-termism over long term environmental sustainability. Government intervention to put a price on carbon emissions, invest in renewable energy, regulate pollution, and encourage sustainable practices is necessary to avoid the worst impacts of the climate crisis and build a sustainable future for all. However, here is the catch:  Is achieving net-zero-carbon emissions by mid-century a probable target? The answer is quite uncertain, however it is critical point to strive for in the face of  escalating Climate Crisis.

Continue Reading

Economy

Egypt’s “Too Big to Fail” Theory Once Again at Test

Published

on

Authors: Reem Mansour & Mohamed A. Fouad

In the wake of 2022 FED’s hawkish monetary policy, the Arab world’s most populous nation, Egypt, saw an exodus of about USD20bn of foreign capital.  A feat that exerted pressure on the value of its pound against the dollar slashing it by almost half.  This led to USD12bn trade backlog accumulating in Egypt’s ports by December 2022.

Meanwhile, amidst foreign debt nearing USD170bn, inflation soaring to double digits, and a chronic balance of payment deficit, Egypt became structurally unfit to sustain global shocks; the country saw its foreign debt mounting to 35% of GDP, causing the financing gap to hover at USD20billion. 

While it may seem all gloom and doom, friends from the GCC rushed to inject funds in the “too big to fail” country, sparing it, an arguably, ill-fate that was well reflected in its Eurobond yields spreads and credit default swaps, a measure that assesses a sovereign default risk. 

For the same reason in early 2023, the IMF sealed a deal worth of USD3bn, with the government, which unlocked an extra USD14bn sources of financing from multilateral institutions, and GCC sovereign funds, to fill in a hefty portion of the annual foreign exchange gap, albeit  a considerable amount averaging USD6bn per annum is yet to be sourced from portfolio investments.  

With the IMF stepping in, the Egyptian government agreed on a structural reform program that requires a flexible exchange rate regime, where the Egyptian pound is set to trade within daily boundaries against the US dollar, rationalize government spending, especially in projects that require foreign currency; and most importantly the program entails stake-sales in publicly owned assets, paving the way for the private sector to play a bigger role in the economy.

In due course, through its sovereign fund, Egypt planned initial offerings for shares in companies worth about USD5-USD6bn, and expanded the sale of its shares in local banks and government holdings to Gulf investment funds. 

Through the limited period of execution of these reforms, the EGP hit a high of 32 against the greenback, and an inflow of portfolio investments amounting to USD1bn took place, according to the Central Bank of Egypt. 

Simultaneously, Citibank International, cited a possible near end of the devaluation of the Egyptian pound against the US dollar.  Also, in a report to investors, Standard Chartered recommended to buy Egyptian treasury bills, and pointed to the return of portfolio flows to the local debt market in the early days of January, 2023. Likewise, Fitch indicated the ability of the Egyptian banking sector to face the repercussions of the depreciation of the pound, and that the compulsory reserve ratios within Egyptian banks are able to withstand any declines in the value of the pound because they are supported by healthy internal flows of capital.

While things seem to be poised for a recovery, the long term prospects may lack sustainability.  The Egyptian government needs to accelerate its plans to shift gears towards a real operational economy capable of withstanding shocks and dealing with any global challenges. Egypt, however has implicitly held the narrative that the country is ‘too big to fail”. This is largely true to the country’s geopolitical relevance, but even this has its limitations when the price to bail far outweighs the price to fail.

Former President George W. Bush’s administration popularized the “too big to fail” (TBTF) doctrine notably during the 2008 financial crisis. The Bush administration often used the term to describe why it stepped in to bail out some financial companies to avert worldwide economic collapse.

In his book “The Myth of Too Big To Fail” Imad Moosa presented arguments against using public fund to bail out failing financial institutions. He ultimately argued that a failing financial institution should be allowed to fail without fearing an apocalyptic outcome. For countries, the TBTF theory comes under considerable challenge.

In August 1982, Mexico was not able to service its external debt obligations, marking the start of the debt crisis. After years of accumulating external debt, rising world interest rates, the worldwide recession and sudden devaluations of the peso caused the external debt bill to rise sharply, which ultimately caused a default. 

After six years of economic reform in Russia, privatization and macroeconomic stabilization had experienced some limited success. Yet in August 1998, after recording its first year of positive economic growth since the fall of the Soviet Union, Russia was forced to default on its sovereign debt, devalue the ruble, and declare a suspension of payments by commercial banks to foreign creditors.

In Egypt, although the country remains to face a number of challenges, signs remain relatively less worrying than 2022, as global sentiment suggests that leverage will be provided in the short-term at least. Egypt’s diversified economy, size and relative regional clout may very well spare the country the fate of Lebanon. However, if reforms do not happen fast enough, the TBTF shield may become completely depleted.

Hence, in order to avoid an economic fallout scenario a full fledged support to the private sector’s local manufacturing activity and tourism is a must.  Effective policies geared towards competitiveness are mandatory, and tax & export oriented concessions are required to unleash the private sector’s maximum potential and shift Egypt into gear.

Continue Reading

Economy

Sanctions and the Confiscation of Russian Property. The First Experience

Avatar photo

Published

on

After the start of the special military operation in Ukraine, Western countries froze the assets of the Russian public and private sector entities which had been hit by blocking financial sanctions. At the same time, the possibility that these assets could be confiscated and liquidated so that the funds could be transferred to Ukraine was discussed. So far, only Canada has such a legal mechanism. It will also be the first country to implement the idea of confiscation in practice. How does the new mechanism work, what is the essence of the first confiscation, and what consequences can we expect from the new practice in the future?

Loss of control over assets in countries that impose sanctions against certain individuals has long been a common phenomenon. The mechanism of blocking sanctions has been widely used for several decades by US authorities. A similar methodology has been adopted by the EU, Switzerland, Canada, Australia, New Zealand, Japan and some other countries. Russia and China may also resort to these tactics, although Moscow and Beijing rarely use them. In the hands of Western countries, blocking sanctions, however, have become a frequent occurrence. Along with the ban on financial transactions with individuals and legal entities named in the lists of blocked persons, such sanctions also imply the freezing of the assets of persons in the jurisdiction of the initiating countries. In other words, having fallen under blocking sanctions, a person or organisation loses the ability to use their bank accounts, real estate and any other property. Since February 2022, Western countries have blocked more than 1,500 Russian individuals in this way. If you add subsidiary structures to them, their number will be even greater. The volume of the property of these persons frozen abroad is colossal. It includes at least 300 billion dollars in gold and foreign exchange reserves.

This is not counting the assets of high net worth Russian individuals worth $30 billion or more which have been blocked by the G7 countries. However, the freezing of property does not mean its confiscation. Although the blocked person cannot dispose of his assets, it formally remains his property. At some point, the sanctions may be lifted, and access to property restored. In practice, restrictive measures can be in place for years, but theoretically, the possibility of recovering assets still remains.

After the start of the special military operation (SMO), calls began to be heard in Western countries to confiscate frozen property and transfer it to Ukraine. Confiscation mechanisms have existed before. For example, property could be confiscated by a court order as part of the criminal prosecution of violators of the sanctions legislation. However, such mechanisms are clearly not suitable for the mass confiscation of property. Blocking sanctions are a political decision that do not require the level of proof of guilt that is required in the criminal process. To put it bluntly, the hundreds of Russian officials or entrepreneurs put on blocking lists for supporting the SMO did not commit criminal offenses for which their property could be subject to confiscation. The sanctions have spurred the search for such crimes in the form of money laundering or other illegal operations. But the amount of funds raised in this way would be a tiny fraction of the value of the frozen assets. To implement the idea of confiscation of the frozen assets of sanctioned persons and the subsequent transfer of the proceeds for them, Ukraine needed a different mechanism.

Canada was the first country to implement such a mechanism. The 2022 revision of the Special Economic Measures Act gives Canadian authorities the executive power to order the seizure of property located in Canada which is owned by a foreign government or any person or entity from that country, as well as any citizen of the given country who is not a resident of Canada (article 4 (1)). The reason for the application of such measures may be “a gross violation of international peace and security, which has caused or may cause a serious international crisis” (Article 4 (1.1.)). The final decision on confiscation must be made by a judge, to whom a relevant representative of the executive branch sends a corresponding petition (Article 5.3). Furthermore, the executive authorities, at their own discretion, may decide to transfer the proceeds from the confiscated property in favour of a foreign state that has suffered as a result of actions to violate peace and security, in favour of restoring peace and security, as well as in favour of victims of violations of peace and security, or victims of violations of human rights law or anti-corruption laws (art. 5.6).

The first target of the new legal mechanism will be the Canadian asset of Roman Abramovich’s Granite Capital Holding Ltd. The value of the asset, according to a statement by Canadian authorities, is $26 million.

Roman Abramovich is on the Canadian Blocked List, i. e. his property is already frozen, and transactions are prohibited. Now the property of the Russian businessman will be confiscated and, with a high degree of probability, ownership will be transferred to Ukraine. This is a relatively small asset (from the standpoint of state property), but the procedure itself can be worked out. Further confiscations may be more extensive.

The Canadian experience can be copied by other Western countries. In the US, work on such a mechanism was announced back in April 2022. although it has not yet been adopted at the legislative level. In the EU, such a mechanism is also not finally fixed in the regulatory legal acts of the Union, although Art. 15 of Regulation 269/2014 obliges Member States to develop, inter alia, rules on the confiscation of assets obtained as a result of violations of the sanctions regime. The very concept of violations can be interpreted broadly. So, for example, Art. 9 of the said Regulation obliges blocked Russian persons to report to the authorities of the EU countries within six weeks after blocking about their assets. Violation of this requirement can be regarded as a circumvention of blocking sanctions.

There are several consequences of the Canadian authorities’ initiative.

First, it becomes clear that the confiscation rule is not dormant. Its use is possible and is a risk. This is a serious signal to those Russians and Russian companies that have not yet come under sanctions, but own property in the West. It can be not only frozen, but also confiscated. This risk will inevitably be taken into account by investors and owners from other countries, which could potentially be the target of increased Western sanctions in the future. Among them are China, Saudi Arabia, Turkey, and others. It is unlikely that the confiscation of Russian property will lead to an outflow of assets of these countries and their citizens from Canada and other Western jurisdictions. But the signal itself will be taken into account.

Second, the Russian side is very likely to take retaliatory measures. Western companies are rapidly withdrawing their assets from Russia. The representation of Canadian business in the Russian Federation was small even before the start of the operation in Ukraine. If the practice of confiscation becomes widespread, then the Russian side can roll it out in relation against the remaining Western businesses. However, so far, Moscow has been extremely hesitant to freeze Western property. While the US, EU and other Western countries have actively blocked Russians and their assets, Russia has mainly responded with visa sanctions. The confiscation could overwhelm Moscow’s patience and make the retaliatory practice more proportionate.

Finally, the practice of confiscation modifies the very Western idea of sanctions. It currently implies, among other things, that the “behavioural change” of sanctioned persons would result in the lifting of sanctions and the return of property. The freezing mechanism was combined with this idea. However, the confiscation mechanism contradicts it. Sanctions now become exclusively a mechanism for causing damage.

From our partner RIAC

Continue Reading

Publications

Latest

Trending