Right before the National Lockdown, when Thimphu was at the verge of a lockdown, people from different regions noticed a sudden change in price on face masks and other relevant protective products and poured their thoughts onto forums and groups on Facebook.
Although the Office of Consumer Protection had repeatedly administered advocacy efforts, on the beak of the smallest opportunity some of the sellers would still hike the prices to exploit the situation.
Evidences, however. are not tangible but a lot of people stated the same in the comment sections, on conversing through the internet, we found out that, these price hikes were being practiced just before the lockdown eventually took place.
Seday Yuthra, a resident of Paro had posted, “A simple mask was charged 80 bucks here at Paro before the imposition of lockdown was announced in Thimphu earlier today. After the news about the lockdown in Thimphu was announced officially, the same mask cost a whopping Nu 160 here in Paro.”
Other commenters followed agreeing on evidences they had experienced themselves in the span of the next two days.
Jigme Dorji, Chief Program Officer, OCP said that the advocacy works have been going on for months and plans and strategies had been set by the office in anticipation of any future lockdowns.
The office as of friday is currently waiting for the permit from the National COVID-19 taskforce for the field activity to start.
He said, “Since we have shortage of manpower, there will be dedicated officials who will be going to monitor from shop to shop instead of being stationed at individual zones, so they will be divided zone wise.”
He added, “They will go from shop to shop advocating on not practicing unfair trade means.”
The office will be monitoring the business prices which were affected prior to lockdown based on the Market Price Index (MPI) collected since the month of November which will be one of the bases to determine the current practices.
He added that if there are slight changes in the prices they will have to determine to see why they are change in the prices are prevalent but as far as they are concerned the ministry has maintained sufficient supply of the essentials and other items therefore they do not think that there should be much changes.
“If they do not have any substantial reason even during such a time of a lockdown, as per the Act and rules and regulations firstly we will not allow them to operate their shops during the lockdown, impose fines and seize the license.”, He added.
Reportedly, the office has been doing advocacy work on frequent basis for months now and shopkeeper will not be exempted with any warning on the account of any legitimate reports of unfair trade practices.
The CPO stated that they have sufficiently given warnings over the past months, even prior to lockdown and the office has been leveraging personnel from 9 departments of the Ministry of Economic Affairs and have divided the team based on requisitions.
The teams were engaged to monitor every shop within different zones and locations on consecutive evenings regarding sensitization works for business entities.
He cited, “Like the closure of shops by 9 o clock, not to sell alcohol without license or not to sell alcohol beyond 9 pm and also regarding the prices.”
He added, “We have been doing so for shops as far as Hongtso and Jemina, so there is no reason why they should still be warned.”
Reportedly, the office has various means to find out in an event of an unfair trade practice.
He added, “Firstly, if complaints are there and we notice it, we have the money receipt issue (copy) to verify the transaction.”
As per the Act shopkeepers are mandated to issue money receipt to a customer if they demand it, and if the shopkeepers fail to produce money receipt, they are liable for separate penalties under the Act.
He said that money receipt becomes a proof or evidence of transaction in the event of any consumer disputes.
He added that they have been educating and encouraging the consumer to avail the money receipt and as most of the shops during this time are large groceries, they should be having it.
He added, “Of course, the shops have been issuing money receipts prior to our advocacies but during such a situation, we would expect them to cooperate with us even more.”
He added, another means is the MPI which serves as a basis for market prices but they also did consider the shops having different prices throughout the country as it is a competitive price in the market which has been determined by the existing market force.
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