Price tags on all products a must from May 1

  • Small-time traders say move not practicable
By Leon Berenger

The authorities are adamant that businessmen, wholesale or retail must display price tags on their products, or risk heavy fines, penalties or even jail terms, but most traders are not listening and they are ready to disregard the law.

A survey carried out by the Sunday Times revealed that traders such as fruit and vegetable sellers, fishermen, butchers and those selling rice - are not in the mood to heed the latest call saying it was not practicable in more than one way and that the relevant authorities should re-think on this matter before trying to enforce it.

“Sri Lanka cannot be compared with the United States, Europe or for that matter the developed West Asian region since it is a tiny third world country where the thinking should be small and the bulk of the trade is done in the retail category with prices fluctuating on a daily basis,” says Gamini Perera who owns a rice outlet at Jaela.

Above and below; No price tags to the fruits and fish on display.

The Government repeatedly refers to the controlled price of a particular brand of rice, but fails to note that it has more than a single variety where the price differs so that consequently the public is confused and is felt cheated by the trader, Mr. Perera said. “For example samba has nearly three to four different varieties and the prices vary accordingly. But when the authorities state that a kilogram of samba should be sold at a certain fixed price, the consumer naturally expects every variety of this rice to be of the same price,” he said.

“This should never be the case and it is up to the authorities to explain matters to the public before embarking on enforcing price regulations,” he added. Mr. Perera’s concern was echoed by several other traders both wholesale and retail, and just like the rice dealer they are not prepared to go along with the Government’s ‘price tag’ policy.

A. P. Premawathie, a clay pot dealer is ignorant about this fuss over price tags but is more concerned with the decline in her business as more and more people are opting for other alternatives in cooking utensils such as aluminum ware and using electrical gadgets??? rice cookers.

“I do not know anything about these price tags but at the moment we are presently selling off our stock at rock bottom prices in a desperate bid to get rid of them even at cost price,” Premawathie lamented.

W. Marshall Cooray President of the Jaela United Fisheries Society said that this new so-called price regulation could be compared to a ‘school boy howler’ and would be treated accordingly.

“It’s just not practicable. The prices differ with every passing hour on each day. On occasions the prices may drop when it nears dusk, but there are also times that it could increase. So how do we tag the price,” he queried.

The authorities should confine these new regulations to the upmarket outlets and leave us poor vendors alone. Perhaps this is another way the State is looking at to raise some kind of revenue for its coffers, he further asked.

To be fair by certain traders there are also problems to be faced when displaying a price list, as a Ragama grocer, S. Pathirana has experienced over and over again. He says mischief makers and others with ulterior motives would scratch out a figure on the price list leading to confusion and unnecessary encounters when the final bill is being prepared.

Then there are also the few traders who like to stick with the law such as Ms. P.D. Sujeewa, a small-time dry fish retailer at Jaela. All my products are priced at reasonable rates so no bargaining is done and there are no disputes with the customer, she said.

“Business is good and that is all that matters,” she said. However, come the start of May, and should the Consumer Affairs Authority (CAA) have its way, then people like Marshall the fish trader, Premawathie the clay pot dealer and others will begin to feel the heat as a massive country-wide crack down has been planned to net in errant traders who do not comply with the new regulations.

CAA Chief Rumy Marzook told the Sunday Times that enough is enough and the law of the land will have to be established however bitter it may seem to certain sections of the trade and called on the public to cooperate towards this end.

“Most traders are known to operate in groups often backed by the underworld in the neighbourhood and are a law unto themselves. This has to be stopped and it will be stopped in the better interest of the general public,” Mr. Marzook said.

“They (the traders big or small) will have to fall in line and display those price tags whatever their product may be. This will also apply to auto dealers and real estate businesses. At present it is common for such persons to advertise without mentioning a price and in future even the media has been advised to accept only advertisements for publishing that mention the price,” Mr. Marzook explained.

He added that even an individual cannot put on public display the sale of a land, house or whatever even in his/her own premises without mentioning the price. The displaying of a price for a particular item also makes it more mentally comfortable for the customer and could, on occasions, even avoid embarrassment, he said.

“For an example let us look at it this way. A shopper has a budget of Rs. 1,000 for that day. A displayed price list could help this person to sum up her/his requirements accordingly and not wait until the cashier gives the bill that may exceed that budget and cause embarrassment,” Mr. Marzook pointed out.
Under the new law which comes into effect from May 1, offenders are liable to a minimum fine of Rs. 1,000 not exceeding Rs. 200,000 or a one year jail term, he said.

The traders may have their own views on the issue but the authorities appear to have the backing from the bulk of the public, according to the findings made by this newspaper. Nagoda resident Nilanthi Silva said the display of the relevant prices makes it very much easier to carry out shopping in lesser time as bargaining with the dealer is not needed.

This is a most welcome move by the authorities and should be implemented at the very earliest, said fellow shopper Sandya Dissanayake. Furthermore traders are known to quote a price according to the appearance of the customer, says engineer D. J. Ferguson. If one should alight from a vehicle or wears expensive jewellery that person is most likely to be fleeced by the trader, Mr. Ferguson said.

By implementing this new law the authorities must work out a mechanism to carry out constant checks on an island-wide basis and bring an end to the price-fixing that is rampant among a cross-section of the traders, he added.

Outdated products: CAA launches awareness programmes

It is not only the unfair prices that are taking the public to the cleaners but also the sale of outdated products that is dangerously widespread even in the so-called upmarket malls.

During more than 13,000 raids carried out in the first quarter of this year ending on April 15 the CAA made more than 350 detections of outdated products being sold in many establishments and included in the list were dozens of upmarket outlets.

CAA Chief Rumy Marzook said that the offenders were fined and the State able to collect more than Rs. 20 million. He added that the CAA, with other organizations, has launched several awareness programmes starting from the schools and offices to educate the public on taking precautions when purchasing food, drinks and other items, however reputed the establishment could be.

“Nothing should be taken for granted and one must take a closer look at the product before deciding to consume it,” Mr. Marzook warned.

Rampant pricing in liquor industry

The multi-billion rupee wine and alcohol trade is one of the richest and lucrative industries in the country and also the most errant when it comes to ‘price fixing’, according to officials.

At present there are more than 1000 wine/alcohol dealers throughout the country and more than 80 per cent of them are known to be selling liquor at prices exceeding the appointed price, they said.

Excise Commissioner- H. Hapuarachchi said that during the last year his officials had made some 386 detections where products were sold at higher than the appointed price, but admitted that it was only the tip of the iceberg.

The public could contact on telephone number 2300170 in providing any information towards this end, he said.

“What we need here is more cooperation from the public in combating this menace, which is sadly lacking. Although our resources are limited we will nonetheless act on any information provided,” Mr. Hapuarachchi said.

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