No respite for consumers
IT IS indeed shocking, albeit not quite surprising, that traders and grocers are maximising profit before Ramadan in defiance of a directive by the commerce ministry on June 26, which asked wholesalers and retailers not to make profit on such items as sugar, edible oil, gram, pulses, garlic, ginger, chilli powder, turmeric power, spices and dates of more than 1 and 10 per cent respectively on their import costs. According a report front-paged in New Age on Friday, the Bangladesh Tariff Commission, which spotted the violation, says consumers have to buy many of these products for prices double their import costs. Its chairman was quoted in the report as saying that one kilogram of imported onion, for example, should not sell for more than Tk 16 but its price on the retail market is currently Tk 25. He added that the retailers were charging exorbitant prices for dates and grams, the most consumed items in Ramadan, the month of fasting for Muslims.
Suffice it to say, steep surge in the prices of certain items ahead of Ramadan has become a regular phenomenon over the years. Every year, the government assures that steps have been and/or will be taken to rein in the prices; however, such assurances hardly translate into reality. Every year, one functionary of the government or the other warns of stringent actions against profiteering by wholesalers and retailers but, again, such tough words are hardly followed up. As such, there are reasons to fear that the commerce minister’s instruction, issued Wednesday, for the deputy commissioners to take legal action against traders who marking higher profits is highly unlikely to bring any reprieve for the consumers, especially the fixed- and low-income people who have been in a constant struggle over the past three years or so to make their ends meet.
It is pertinent to recall here that the ruling Awami League promised in its election manifesto that ‘measures will be taken to reduce the unbearable burden of price hike and keep it in tune with the purchasing power of the people.’ However, since the assumption of office by the AL-led alliance in January 2009, save for a few months, prices of essential commodities have marked a sustained surge. Meanwhile, the real income of the people has hardly increased, if not decreased altogether in the face of raging inflation. What’s even worse, while the people at large suffered, some key functionaries of the government, including a former commerce minister and the finance minister, came up with such outrageous advice as ‘eat less’ and ‘shop less’, to cope with rising prices.
One need not be a rocket scientist to know that any law or directive is only as good as its enforcement. Regrettably, however, enforcement does not seem to be the government’s forte. What’s worse, the government seems to have a habit of not putting ‘the money where the mouth is’. For example, it did commission the National Consumer Rights Protection Department almost two years ago but, according to its director general, it could start functioning for lack of manpower. The government needs to realise that, if it cannot follow up on its promises and assurances, the least it can do is not make those to the people.
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