KZN Economic Development MEC warns against price gouging in the wake of civil unrest
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DURBAN - THE KwaZulu-NATAL Department of Economic Development, Tourism and Environmental Affairs has asked a team from the department’s Consumer Protection Unit to conduct an investigation into complaints about alleged unreasonably inflated prices.
This comes with a high demand for food, especially staples such as bread and milk, due to the freight industry grinding to a halt and only limited stores operating following the looting and unrest last week.
While the freight industry has resumed operations and stores that were not looted started operating late last week, some products remain in short supply, including baby formula and nappies.
Since then, there has been an outcry about alleged inflated prices, especially with the price of bread rising sharply. People have taken to social media claiming that loaves of bread were priced at R35 each.
“I bought brown bread with R35, I even had to add R5 to the normal price of airtime from my local spaza shop,” said a customer.
BB Bakeries placed a message on their social media platforms reassuring customers that their bread price had not changed.
“With regard to price hikes and bread being sold to the public directly from trucks, we’d like to notify our BB Bakeries community that our bread price has not changed, and that we will investigate any scenario where bread is being sold at inflated prices,” they stated.
The bakery issued an email address and phone number where people can report inflated bread prices. “If you come across, or have any details of illicit activity (area, driver and/or vehicle information), please notify us so that we’re able to investigate further. Email us at [email protected] premierfmcg.com or contact us on 0860 122 300,” they said.
KZN’s Economic Development, Tourism and Environmental Affairs MEC, Ravi Pillay, condemned the alleged price hikes and said price gouging was prohibited under the Disaster Management Act regulations.
“This cannot be a time for profit making. We are calling for a patriotic contribution to the national effort to recover and rebuild. Roads, fuel and food security are our immediate priorities.
“We understand that due to the disruption of supply lines, some businesses have had to incur additional costs relating to the transportation of goods. However, some of the price hikes are allegedly very high and unjustifiable,” said Pillay.
Pillay appealed to businesses to desist from gouging prices, especially of food items, as this had a bearing on food security.
“Profiteers are warned that the law provides for severe punishment.
“We will also publish offenders with the consequence of reputational risk,” he said.
Pillay commended some businesses on their efforts to ensure food security.
“In recent days we have been inspired by many examples of businesses who have come to the rescue of the poor by offering meals and basic food items for free,” he said.
Amid the Covid-19 pandemic, the issue of price gouging became a serious concern with the Competition Commission stating that since the beginning of the national disaster on March 17 last year, it had received 2 069 price-gouging complaints through telephone calls, SMSes, general emails and other platforms.
Of those cases, 1 199 were relevant to price gouging insofar as they related to the Consumer and Customer Protection and National Disaster Management Regulations and Directions of March 19, 2020, the commission said.
About 35 businesses had been fined more than R16.5 million since the outbreak of the pandemic.