Minister of Finance, Chris Sinckler introduced a National Social Responsibility Levy. Then he came back this year and carried it up from two per cent to ten per cent.
Nearly everyone warned that it would cause an increase in prices even though some things were exempted from this onerous tax. But , still it seems as if nothing has escaped.
Take the Barbadian staple of chicken.
There is no meat Bajans like more than chicken- friend, baked, boiled, barbeque , grilled or whatever other style. The sales racked up at the fast food outlets, by those people selling on Friday and Saturday nights, at the canteens and food tucks across the island, can speak to the trend. The chicken can be whole, quarters, legs, breasts , wings and necks or seconds and even damaged. Chicken in any form is the meat Bajans want.
Stephen Layne, president of the Egg and Poultry producers can speak to the issue eloquently, as can James Paul, the chief executive officer of the Barbados Agricultural Society. In fact recently we saw them state that the outrageous prices we see for the birds being offered for sale at retail outlets cannot be apportioned to the growers. Their refrain is that they are doing their best to keep the prices down.
The problem lies elsewhere.
Clearly, that is why there is a need for a price gouging hotline in Barbados.
Consumers should be able to call and report instances of “gouging” or extreme hikes in prices, and not only on food.
What should be the penalty?
Leave that to the consumer protection officials, the consumer lobbyists , BARP and even the legal minds in Government on what should done to the culprits.
Hopefully, it won’t take a few years to come to a decision.
Of course, retailers will speak to why it is necessary to let market forces dictate the prices since that is the best way for the economic equation to work. Price controls have not had a good history in Barbados, even though moral suasion hasn’t either.
So what do we do when the price of chicken may not be reaching the consumer at a fair and reasonable price.
Consumers certainly need to shop around. From supermarket to wholesale warehouses to the Cheapside market on Saturday morning, all in an effort to find the best prices.
With Christmas approaching , price gouging will certainly be in the foreground. Afterall, everybody looking for a little extra cash for the season of goodwill towards his brother and sister.
Take the agricultural produce which will be on sale.
The rains have been a blessings, but also a headache. Some items are already not readily available and may be in short supply. The prices have started to rise; cucumbers and tomatoes are two examples. Cucumbers which were $1 a pound two weeks ago are now $2:50 and $3 from the growers/ sellers in the Cheapside market. Local tomatoes have virtually disappeared and what’s available are on offer from $6 and up for a pound.
If the showers continue as we have been getting in recent weeks, guarantee that the prices will be hot for the yuletide season.
So the NSRL may not be applicable, but the prices are going up and staying up.
Many Barbadians will want a ham for Christmas. It will be interesting to see what will be the average price for that picnic ham which can easily be consumed in a day at a family gathering.
Don’t be surprised if the price of a turkey, whole or half goes up.
A piece of baked pork is still a necessity for many households and you can guarantee that it will also cost more this Christmas.
So chicken which is the biggest seller and offers the greatest opportunity or all those in the food chain to make a little piece of additional change, will continue to cost more.
Not even the people who get to import the chicken, even if the local producers can meet all the demands, will also be looking to get a little extra on their returns.
Not a hike in keeping with inflation, not even by ten per cent above last year’s prices. Some of the increases will be even higher.
Many will buy and quietly mumble their disapproval; some will openly express their disgust; others will walk away.
We really need that consumer hotline on price gouging. We most certainly need to get some action as a result of its presence.