Consumer watchdog disturbed by lockdown price increases

National Consumer Rights Association (NACORA) says it is disturbed by high prices of basic commodities at a time when the country is under lockdown, with only a few privileged individuals affording them.

The concerns by the consumer watchdog come at a time when retailers are reneging on their last week`s agreement with the government to revert to prices that obtained on March 25 before the lockdown.

By and large, most shops in Bulawayo and other cities have not reduced prices, instead, some have even increased them.

“We are disturbed by the fact that businesses have continued to maintain high prices and the government seems to be at loss to completely to deal with that,” bemoaned NACORA spokesperson, Effie Ncube.

“For us, we continue as consumers to demand, quality products and quality services at affordable prices. We are not suggesting that we should be paying nothing but we are against profiteering, we are against price collusion, we are against uncompetitive behaviour, we are against substandard products, we are against the exorbitant charging of basic commodities.”

Ncube said the rights of consumers were being violated and called upon government and business to come to the table and ensure that prices become affordable to many.

“Prices have a deeper impact,” said Ncube.

“They can ensure that the majority of people come under the poverty datum line. They can impoverish people.”

He said interventions were needed to ensure prices come down.

“It cannot work by a dictatorial edict. It has to be negotiated amongst consumers, government and business to ensure that the prices are economically sustainable, businesses are not there to offer goods and services for free but also to ensure that there is no profiteering, there is no taking advantage of the current situation, where you have shortages, where people are restricted to buy in certain areas and therefore they cannot move around to shop for cheaper prices,” said Ncube. 

“It is important that there be negotiations because if you just push as government has done, businesses would simply reduce by a dollar or 50 cents and raise the other products that are off the eyes of the people. We noted this week that for instance some milk and products were brought down but correspondingly some were raised up to compensate for the loss in bringing down those prices”.

He added: “It is important that you have a comprehensive and holistic approach to this. You look at the cost factors for businesses as well as attend to consumer demands as well as take into account the value of the Zimbabwean dollar. The government has to do something around that. So it is something that has to be very comprehensive that involves consumer, government and business. If it is just government dictating it, it won’t work and that is why prices have not come down.”

Ncube said while there were criminal and unscrupulous elements taking advantage of the situation, there were also basic factors brought about by the weakening Zimbabwean currency.

Source: Centre for Innovation and Technology (CITE)