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EDITORIAL: All unfair food pricing must end

rhondathompson, [email protected]

EDITORIAL: All unfair food pricing must end

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The cost of living is a perennial political topic in and out of election, but more so at election time. So it is not surprising that it has reared its controversial head during this St John by-election campaign.
Of course, it was also raised during the general election when the Democratic Labour Party (DLP), then in Opposition, accused the Barbados Labour Party in Government of engaging in “an unholy alliance” with corporate Barbados to maintain certain levels of profit – or, to put it bluntly, to accommodate price gouging.
It was always on the cards that the topic would arise in the St John by-election, because prices have not abated or dropped as indeed the DLP had promised, nor have there been the innovations promised by the Dems as part of the effort to reduce prices.
Fuel was added to the fire recently when the Customs Brokers Association, in a release to the media, pointed out that with the repeal of the Environmental Levy prices on some everyday items should be stabilized or should not have increased.
This was a public-spirited and, it would appear, objective approach to information which should be available to the public, but needless to say it put supermarkets under some pressure to explain themselves.
Matters heated up on the campaign trail when Minister of Finance Chris Sinckler accused supermarkets of ripping off Barbadians with indiscriminate price increases on food items, and instanced the almost doubling of the price of mauby on a supermarket shelf as an example of price hiking, even though management claimed it was an error.
Chamber of Commerce president Andy Armstrong’s response was that contrary to the minister’s comments his organization had not seen any evidence of across-the-board increases.
Reasonable prices should be paid for goods proffered by local merchants who are equally entitled to a reasonable profit within the context of the real world of market forces, and within our democratic traditions.
Barbados is not a state-controlled command economy in which the Government has complete power over the market process, but ministers have an overriding duty to the public to ensure that the forces of market capitalism – or, worse, greed – does not unfairly propel prices upwards.
We would expect clear evidence of price gouging or unfair price setting to be brought to public attention and remedial action taken to bring the miscreant merchants into line.
We must not allow one or two bad apples to spoil the barrel.
And so we applaud the exercise of Minister of Trade and Commerce Senator Haynesley Benn, as suggested by Mr Armstrong, in presenting the “evidence”, as collated by the Government’s trading standards inspectors. With a basic item like flour moving from a tag price of $4.99 in early November to $7.50 in late December, and similarly stew beef moving from $11.79 to $22.75, the argument exorbitant increases are not proved has become quite weakened.
But we would urge the minister to regard this publication of unreasonable increases as a first step only. We would advise that the ministry keep in constant contemplation what more could be done if retailers keep breaching the level of prices within the basic basket.
We also urge consumer organizations to take a more active role in this matter, because whatever the Government may do, consumers purposefully guided can ensure that unfair pricing becomes a thing of the past.