GOB sends stern warning to the Chinese community about price gouging
The Government of Belize says it’s listening to the cries of the Belizean people and is sending a stern warning to the business community, that price gouging will not be tolerated. Today, the Prime Minister, John Briceno, and the Minister of Food Security, Jose Mai, along with the Supplies Control Unit, met with the Belize Chinese Association to discuss the issue. The discussion surrounded the change that was made to the Supplies Control Act, which specifically aims to tackle price gouging and the measures needed to ensure that Chinese retailers and wholesalers are not overpricing their goods. Minister of Food Security, Jose Mai, explained that GOB is issuing a warning before it brings down the hammer on those caught price gouging.
Jose Abelardo Mai, Minister of Agriculture, Food Security and Enterprise: “We had been in consultation with the store owners for some time, we’ve been doing rounds on the media explaining what we will do. Today we had the opportunity to meet with our partners in the community which is the Chinese community which essentially are involved in business of owning shops an so on. Many of them here are wholesalers and retailers but as partners in this we explained to them what the regulations are now and how they can help us to control the gouging. It was a very good meeting, it was very cordial and I think it is a step in the right direction. I think they all agree that we are in this together and that we must partner to try to give the opportunity to Belizeans to have a decent livelihood. I don’t think it is fair for anyone to be gouging or we know that inflation is a reality but there are maybe people who are taking that as an advantage and raising prices that are unnecessarily and making lives for Belizeans even hard. So it was a good meeting and I think that we have another meeting. These essentially were retailers, some do wholesale but they are people who are importing and many as what was explained to us today they base their price based on what they receive the goods at and so you have to work it backward and say hold on but why is the wholesaler selling it to them at a higher price and then the wholesaler will say but why is the importer bringing it in a that high price so this first meeting was with the retailer essentially and now we meet with the wholesalers in the next coming weeks and with the importers so we are explaining to them what the law is and how we can work together.”
Before the meeting, the Supplies Control Unit went out to different grocery stores and purchased two of the same items to demonstrate to the association how prices are being unlawfully hiked. Lennox Nicolson, Controller of Supplies, explained that this was done to disprove the argument that external inflation is behind the everyday uptick in prices.
Lennox Nichols, Controller of Supplies, Ministry of Agriculture, Food Security and Enterprise: “Everybody recognizes the impact that inflation is having. As an importing country a good amount of that is actually imported inflation. What we need to do as the enforcement agency is to be able to distinguish where imported inflation ends and gouging starts and you would have noticed that certain goods were taken into the room and we explained some of our findings from inspections where we can show where that imported inflation aspect ended and where the gouging started and the minister mentioned about our collaboration with the community because that is key because one of the things we need to be able to do is to map throughout the entire distribution chain and identify exactly where the problem point may be and that’s why the minster made mention of the receipts and invoices so that we are able to identify whether there is a problem at the importer end, the wholesaler end, or the retailer end because we want to ensure that when we make our enforcement intervention it is effective and it will only be effective if we’re properly targeting the element that has the problem. So the discussion was to set up discussions, collaboration, information sharing and explain to the community what their obligations and responsibilities are under the current legislation and under the amendment that has been passed and we do have commitment to further our discussions and information sharing with the community. We actually have access to certain administrative records where we are able to determine the landed cost of goods, cost, insurance, freight, duties and taxes, actually in most instances the basic food items do not pay duties right ? So the government actually has limited latitude in terms of what they can do by foregoing taxes on those products. So we are able to track landed costs for the goods.”