Monday, April 15, 2024

Businesses ticketed for price gouging; almost a dozen violators in San Pedro

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To control price gouging across the country, the Ministry of Agriculture, Food Security and Enterprise created a Price Control Unit (PCU) and has sent inspectors to different municipalities to address non-compliant establishments. In San Pedro, Ambergris Caye, the 11 stores visited by inspectors were ticketed for price control violations. In Caye Caulker, non-compliance was reported at 75% of businesses visited, and inspectors received minimal cooperation from establishments.
The nationwide inspections started in September, with establishments being visited in the Belize District first. According to the PCU, the need to monitor price gouging resulted from the cries of the public regarding the irregular increase in prices of food supplies. According to the Controller of Supplies, Lennox Nicholson, the initial ticket fee is $300. If the ticket is not paid, the fee doubles, and eventually, the ticket becomes a court summons. He explained that the fee/fine will be heavier if someone is convicted. The PCU hopes that the issuance of tickets may serve as a deterrent for businesses not to increase their prices on essential food items. These items include vegetables, whole grains, lean proteins, eggs, beans, milk, cooking oil, chicken cuts, ground beef, and even five-gallon bottled water. Other items included under price regulations are feminine hygiene products. The new law sets the maximum markup for these essential food items and goods at 15% for wholesale and 25% for retail. Before the price control regulations, these margins were usually 30% for wholesale and around 60% for retail.
Before introducing this law, stakeholders asked the government to delay it and discuss the legislation properly. They asked for a fair margin to operate with a profit. In San Pedro, the cost of goods is higher than on the mainland because everything is barged to the island. Nicholson said that although this is understood, businesses on the Cayes are advised to charge their customers accordingly and to discontinue price gouging.
The PCU stated that they will continue visiting establishments countrywide, and their presence will increase in 2024. Nicholson said they will receive six additional inspectors and should bolster their enforcement. The Unit said that the new law allows ticketed establishments to be published. However, they have asked for an extra month to reveal the names of the penalized businesses for price gouging.

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