EDITORIAL - We have the power
With Christmas fast approaching, now just a little over a month away, there is great concern that consumers will see a marked increase in the price of goods on the supermarket shelves and wherever else they shop.
From the time the National Social Responsibility Levy (NSRL) was introduced last year, the cry from retailers was that it would send the price of goods up. Then when Minister of Finance and Economic Affairs, Christopher Sinckler earlier this year announced that the NSRL was moving from two per cent to 10 per cent, that cry of price increases became deafening. The private sector made it clear that with the NSRL jumping to 10 per cent, coupled with the two per cent commission on all sales of foreign currency and the excise tax on fuel, would mean that consumers were going to have to dig deeper to purchase the products they desired.
Now, we admit that these factors would result in prices going up. However, like all Barbadians we are concerned that some unscrupulous business people will use those factors as an excuse to push the prices very high. If such does occur, it cannot be condoned. While over the last few months it appears that prices have levelled off to some extent, one cannot help but wonder if as the Yuletide season gets under way, if merchants, knowing that Barbadians love Christmas and love spending money at that time, will jack up their prices.
We certainly hope that this will not be the case, and that merchants, in keeping with the goodwill that should be exhibited during the season, see it fit to keep the prices down as best they can. Certainly, it would not do them well to price the goods out of the reach of the average man and woman, and as a society, it is imperative that we speak out against such things, and not allow anyone to take advantage of us.
We put the onus on the consumers to speak up and speak out, as the reality is that there is little the authorities can do, other than use moral suasion, to encourage retailers not to price their goods astronomically high. That is because there is no legislation in place that addresses price gouging and so businesses are free to charge what they wish for items, once they are not under price control.
Given that this is the norm, understandably we see instances of products being sold in competing establishments at different prices. Sometimes the prices vary so much, it makes one wonder why that is the case. But what is even more perplexing, is where sister stores have the same products priced differently as well. There is absolutely no reason if a company imports a product to be sold, for example tuna, why one of its stores in the north of the island sells it for $4 and another in the south of the island sells it for $2. To us looking in from the outside, the only difference would be location and if that is the case, then there is absolutely no basis for the price difference.
It is for this reason that we think it necessary that Government has greater oversight in relation to the cost of products being imported into and sold in this country. If they have full details on the costs of the items and the cost of bringing the items here, there would be more transparency and a better understanding of how merchants arrive at the prices they charge. But, in the meantime, the consumers have the power to get merchants to do the right thing – we can choose to buy it or leave it on the shelf.