Complaints to price control spike

In the week since the first confirmed case of COVID-19 was reported the Price Control Commission has received in excess of 50 complaints from consumers regarding price gouging.

To put things into perspective, the Consumer Protection Commission received a total of 82 complaints for an entire year.

Shoppers nationwide have also taken to social media to voice their frustration over jacked up prices on their everyday necessities.

Danny Sumner, chairman of the commission, said the complaints surged following the announcement of a 24-hour curfew by the prime minister last week.

“We have been fielding a number of complaints over the last week and a half in regard to price gouging and hoarding,” he told Guardian Business.

“Both of them go hand in hand. And what we have seen, and this came on the heels of the lockdown that was implemented by the government, and consequently are beginning to flood the food stores for items they may need specifically in the lockdown.

“Household items such as Lysol products, hand sanitizers, etc. Those items we discovered that the complaints coming in were that the prices were doubled in some instances or went up like 60 or 70 percent. And those complaints were not just coming from New Providence, they were coming from all over The Bahamas, as far as Inagua.”

In recent days Sumner said the complaints have been coming in on food items like eggs.

“Eggs have been increased drastically over the last three days,” he said.

“As chairman I have informed my shop inspectors who go into store on a daily basis and put them on guard that we have to look at these complaints to see if we can verify and make sure that the prices are not in fact being gouged.

“Every price that you see in the food stores and convenience stores have a markup price and the store owners must be in compliance not to go over that markup price.”

However, Sumner said the hike in prices may not necessarily be the result of nefarious retailers.

“Gouging has been going on in the state of Florida. As a matter of fact I looked at one of the local news stations coming out of Florida where a couple of stores in Florida were fined heavily by the federal government for price gouging. This just happened last week. And what is happening is the spin off for gouging in the state of Florida has trickled over into The Bahamas,” he said.

“What is happening, some of the merchants who sell these products to the Bahamians, [the cost] is being passed on. Gouging isn’t an original thing right now in The Bahamas. It has been handed down to the wholesale suppliers here.”

That’s not to say, however, that smaller scale gouging isn’t taking place, the chairman noted.

“For example I had a complaint coming to me yesterday from Inagua where a gallon of bleach was advertised in the store to sell for $21.95,” he said.

“That is ridiculous and outrageous. I called down to Inagua and I spoke to the inspector down there and I told him that price has to get out of that system immediately and I want it done right way.

“What I found in doing that investigation, the person who owns that store were going up 90 percent on the price. There’s no need for that. When we calculated what the cost of the shipping would have been, that item shouldn’t have been more than between $9 and $11. The markup price for the Family Islands is only 25 to 35 percent.

“We have an index, whether it’s the Family Islands or New Providence, where the price is set so that consumers know what the prices are whether it’s in Matthew Town or Nassau.”

Another pressing concern of the commission is retailer hoarding.

“Hoarding means the wholesalers or the retailers have these items and put them away, and bring them out conveniently and then go up on the price,” he said.

“That’s hoarding. We try to not have that happen because the law states that if you have these items, they must be made available to the Bahamian public at fair market price.

“Which means you have to make sure they are being distributed…and not to go up on the prices because you’re the only person who has them. You find one or two stores are hoarding things and they know they are the only ones that have it then they jack up on the price. That’s a problem we are having right now.”

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