DIVISION OF RULE ENGENDERING CONSUMERS' FLEECING: DOS PRICE CONTROL

TARIQ AHMED SAEEDI (tariqsaeedi@hotmail.com)
Jan 07 - 13, 2008

All out measures of enterprises and investment promotion department of City and District Government Karachi (CDGK) to cater an adequate price structure of edible goods to consumers are negligible owing to lacunae engrossed in present law enforcing structure. E&IP is delegated an exclusive responsibility without authority to enforce periodically reviewed predetermined prices of consumer goods in all 18 towns of the metropolis. It is a startling fact that prices of consumer goods most of which include grocery items are independently monitored and revised by different government authorities. To have a cursor glance at the diversity of authorities it is disclosed that federal government fixes market rate of major crops such as wheat, rice, flour and so forth while prices of vegetables are determined by concerned market committees governed by provincial authority. CDGK is only authorised to determine in-market tariffs of about 66 notified consumer goods that include pulses, meat, veal, chicken, and so on and so forth. The disunity in flow of command emanated from various authorities to manage administrative affairs stymies process of ensuring fair market practices. Rather, it would not be an exaggeration to say that the complex and interwoven command chain precipitates proliferation of extra market forces, which abuse open-market's relaxations. Apart from this stockists are openly defying legalities due to delays in justice.

The city administration has made district officers of E&IP responsible to control prices of notified consumer goods being supplied through wholesalers, retailers, and weekly organized makeshift marts. According to a rough estimate over 80 such arrangements by CDGK are set up around the city. Different other city administrative authorities also set up such markets in Karachi. On periodically basis, each DO issues over 15,000 price lists to these wholesalers, retailers, and makeshift marts. The inclusive prices are subject to be co-decided in consultation with mainstream sellers and associations of retailers and wholesalers. At this front, there are two pronged problems appeared. First, majority of sellers are least bothered to purchase the price list, which has a cost of Rs. 6 only. And the second unfortunate dilemma is that the issuance authority i.e. E&IP beholds no legitimate power to stipulate acquisition of price list on goods' sellers. Sarcastically, it was reported in a news report that the same priced price lists were once sold at Rs.20 to retailers and wholesalers. Talking to the scribe District Officer, Price Control, CDGK, Meer Khalid Ali Hashmi said department of revenue working under the ambit of CDGK has indeed legal power to some extent to enforce determined prices in the market. Perhaps, this is why sometimes malefactors manage to even sale price list over its actual price to dreaded sellers, who in fear of government's drive against defiance acquiesce to have price list. He has a jurisdiction of four towns in terms of price control. He told in his regular visits to food markets he found out excess number of middlemen routinely immersed into horizontal transportation of fruits and vegetables from farmers to market of end-customers. Although he is in favour of auctioneers who procure commodities from producer, he termed the role of another middleman between auctioneer and ultimate seller useless. The offspring of this unimportant participation leads to further predicament of consumers as prices become artificially high instead of move along the real market drivers. The cause of escalating and insuperable prices of vegetables and fruits is unnecessary involvement of these middlemen, he added. It seems that provincial market committee is neither efficient to erode away such shabbiness of the market. Certainly, provincial market committee has prowess to act effectively other than to record figures of containers transporting in and out of the market. As far as grocery items are concerned, we can only report unfair practices in the market to concerned departments, he clarified.

Bachat Bazars (makeshift marts) are giving much relief to consumers insofar prices of grocery items are concerned, said Rashid Ikram, District Officer Price Control of five towns. The prices of products in these Bazars are quite lower. There products are available on rates lower than conventional market's rate. Not only this, these Bazars provide separate selling enclosures on a single spot fairly eliminating practices of encroachments out of street-ways and roadsides. Besides, they assist in government's struggles to enhance employability of people. More than 10,000 selling stalls are erected in the weekly Bazars around the city.

A grocery wholesaler in condition of anonymity informed this scribe the long-awaited customers clean swept his a store after it shuttered on first time following the recent four days crisis across the city. He told to make unprecedented sales of goods on prices higher than actual during the particular day. No point to explain that goods were stoked in his store right before closure. Customers opted to buy at any price fearing another such untoward condition, he explicitly remarked.

A consumer rights activist, Molana Yusuf Memon told the scribe wholesalers in fact are creating price rise of consumer goods. As ever they are completely responsible for market chaos. They block inflow of goods into the market while stock excessively to create artificial shortage, he said. That results in supply and demand gap and in subsequent effects increases prices. They should be booked for violating redundantly consumer right laws of the state, he urged.

A senior official of district administration revealed that when poultry association was asked to justify regular and arbitrary price hiking of poultry products, albeit, it was informed members of association practiced to vote to decide whether to raise prices.

Under the existing law that governs the Competition Commission of Pakistan [erstwhile Monopoly Control Authority, which was enacted in 1970] the penalties are said to be too small to deter non-compliance with orders. While CCP acts against the defaulters and those who indulge in collusive and monopolistic practices fact is that CCP is not taken seriously because of its non-operative existence since its inception about one year ago.

Decentralization is no doubt healthy for the economy. But, unity of command is equally important to implement consumer protection laws and to cast off shadows of unfair market practices.