Commerce Minister says ‘action’ to cut down inflated prices

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Dhaka, Mar 02: Commerce Minister Tipu Munshi says that he is preparing to take ‘action’ against businesses to reduce the inflated prices of necessities ahead of Ramadan.

“The media should spread the word – the government has taken a firm stance to ensure a fair price for necessities,” he said during a meeting with government agencies on stocks, supplies, imports and the price situation of daily necessities at the Secretariat on Wednesday.

“We will take action if anyone raises prices.”

The recent spike in the price of necessities has hit ordinary consumers hard. In some cases, price hikes have been the result of inflation in international markets, but there have also been allegations that traders are hoarding and artificially inflating prices.

The Directorate of National Consumer Rights Protection has recently fined some businesses alleged to be charging excessively.

“The prices we set based on the price hikes in the international market must be maintained,” the commerce minister said. “I have noticed several discrepancies on this matter recently.”

“We have discussed the matter with representatives from different consumer rights groups, the Competition Commission and law enforcement agencies. In some cases, businesses are trying to hike prices intentionally.”

The meeting focused particularly on the situation in the markets for soyabean oil and palm oil, he said.

On Feb 6, the price of a litre bottle of soyabean oil was set at Tk 168, the price of soyabean oil without the bottle was set at Tk 143 per litre, and the price of palm oil at Tk 133 per litre.

But a litre of soyabean oil without the bottle is selling for Tk 160-167 on the market.

“The Trade and Tariff Commission set those prices based on a number of indices – the landing cost, the price per bottle, and the appropriate level of profit were all set. Our directives on this issue must be followed.”

“We will not accept any malpractice. The DGFI, NSI and the Detective Branch of police are now working on the issue so that no dark influence can impact prices.”

Tipu Munshi, himself a businessman, reiterated that not all businesses are dishonest, but he had instructed the investigators to take action against the irregularities that have been reported.

“Nobody is more generous than the government,” he said. “We will ease the way for businesses in all manner of ways, but this does not mean they can take advantage of it. At one point the oil mill owners came to us, demanding that we raise the price. We told them plainly that it was not possible.”

The commerce minister urged the media to help build a ‘people’s syndicate’ to take action against dishonest businesses.