Price-gouging claims reported, but few qualify for action
The Consumer Affairs Commission (CAC) has received more than 30 reports of price-gouging since a law prohibiting exploitative costing took effect on March 31.
Price-gouging occurs when a seller increases the prices of goods, services, or commodities to a level much higher than is considered reasonable or fair.
Under the Trade (Sale of Goods During Period of Declaration of Disaster Area) Order, price-gouging is a criminal offence. Offenders face a fine of up to $2 million.
However, Chief Executive Officer Dolsie Allen said yesterday that a cursory review of the reports revealed that only four appear to meet the threshold for possible action.
“It must be emphasised that price-gouging must be proven, and so the commission is underscoring that no investigation is yet complete and that the assumption is strictly based on the price of the item alone, and no other evidence has yet been recovered to prove that fact,” she told The Gleaner.
Allen said that most complaints have been filed from parishes with large consumer density such as Kingston and St Andrew, followed by St James and St Ann.
The majority of reports related to items listed in the ministerial order - hand sanitiser, Lysol antiseptic sprays, soaps, padlocks, baking tins, petrol, and other assorted products, said Allen. Chicken, cheese, peas, oranges, okra, and other assorted products were also included in reports.
The vendors against whom the complaints have been filed are mainly owners of supermarkets, wholesale food outlets, pharmacies, and wholesale chemical outlets.
The CAC conducts routine field surveys and also deploys secret shoppers to collect data.
However, at least 80 per cent of the commission’s staff have been grounded by the St Catherine parish lockdown imposed to restrict movement and curb transmission of the new coronavirus. Only workers in certain essential industries are allowed to leave the parish, and curfews and other movement constraints have limited the amount of field work the CAC can undertake.
“The commission has to abide by the parish lockdown related to St Catherine as well as the all-island curfews. However, our regular price surveys continue, except in St Catherine,” said Allen.
“The commission is, therefore, unable to make an assessment of the impact of the lockdown within that parish.”
Nearly 2,000 Jamaicans have downloaded the CAC Android mobile application that facilitates complaint submission as well as provides access to news updates on recalls and warnings, consumer laws, petrol prices, and grocery basket prices, among other things.
For the April 2019-March 2020 financial year, $24.642 million was disbursed in refunds or compensation.
A total of 1,645 complaints were received, with the top two being in the categories of electrical equipment and appliances and utilities.