Sat | Mar 28, 2020

Going after price gougers - COVID-19 profiteers could face $2m fine

Published:Thursday | March 26, 2020 | 12:27 AM

Romario Scott/Gleaner Writer

"Unconscionable" retailers found guilty of jacking up prices on goods without cause amid the COVID-19 outbreak in breach of a new order announced yesterday could be slapped with a fine of up to $2 million.

State minister in the Ministry of Industry, Commerce, Agriculture and Fisheries, Floyd Green, announced yesterday in Parliament that the Trade Sales of Goods During Period of Declaration Order 2020, which falls under the Trade Act, will be coming into effect to curb price gouging.

Green disclosed to Parliament yesterday that after getting several complaints, the ministry sent out agents to businesses to canvass prices.

“Between the 9th and 13th day of March, our Consumer Affairs Commission went and visited 43 outlets looking especially at sanitisation products, for which we were getting a myriad of complaints.

“What we found was there that there was, in fact, unexplained rises in prices across a number of the items,” Green told Parliament yesterday.

According to the minister, there was an average of 14 per cent increase in prices for hand sanitisers and a whopping 85 per cent rise in aerosol disinfectant sprays.

“In one case, we got a report out of St Ann where the aerosol spray that was normally sold for $850 in retail was being sold for $1,641,” he said.

“The people who suffer most when these prices are raised to unconscionable levels are the most vulnerable in our society.”

Green said that the Disaster Risk Management Order would prohibit price increases higher than the charge that existed before the order came into force.

The CAC, the minister said, would have the power to demand accounting materials for examination.

“There is a defence in law and that defence is, if in the normal supply chain you do have increases on the supply you get, then we do understand that those legitimate increases can be passed on," the minister added.

"What we are fighting against are the instances where ... it is the same stock that was there yesterday, you come back today, and you see an unexplained and unconscionable increase.”

The minister said that consumers should report concerns to the CAC to trigger investigations into allegations of price gouging.

Green said the order will run the duration of the 'disaster area' order that was made by Prime Minister Andrew Holness on Tuesday.

romario.scott@gleanerjm.com