Regulator 'vigilant' on hoarding and gouging

By YOURI KEMP

Regulators are continuing to probe allegations of price gouging involving food items and batteries in the wake of Hurricane Dorian, the Prices Commission's chairman warned yesterday.

Danny Sumner, urging companies to desist from such practices, said that while building supplies and hardware stores had remained compliant with the law to-date "we have to be as vigilant [with] them as much we are with food and convenience stores".

He added that price inspectors are investigating consumer complaints daily once they are brought to the commission's attention. It then dispatches a team to the businesses involved in the allegations.

Mr Sumner said: "If found that business owners have violated Chapter 339, Article 4, of the statute law of The Bahamas regarding price gouging, then the perpetrators can be first brought to the Consumer Protection Board for further investigation and hearing with the minister responsible, which is the minister of labour, Dion Foulkes.

"Then, if the board, after all of the evidence has been determined, wishes to prosecute, it is within the minister's discretion to take the matter further with regard to prosecution or to dismiss."

When asked how the Prices Commission determines if a business is in violation of the price gouging laws, Mr Sumner said: "Every store has an index price list for items provided to them, and a certain formula would be applied by the inspectors on whether a price is too high.

"It is a formula that is based on the amount of custom duties on the goods imported and/or VAT calculated on the purchase of the item, in addition to where the goods were purchased and price they paid prior to Bahamian taxes being levied."

The punishment for price gouging laid out in Article 4 is a maximum $5,000 fine per item found in violation, or a prison sentence not exceeding 12 months in prison.

Mr Sumner, meanwhile, also warned building supply and hardware stores against hoarding supplies. He suggested this could be a problem when the post-Hurricane Dorian rebuilding efforts start in earnest, as the Prices Commission wants to ensure reconstruction supplies are made available to all.

The commission chairman reiterated that Bahamian law prohibits the hoarding of supplies for speculation or profiteering. He said from his personal experience that businesses selling lumber, hardware and building supplies are more prone to violate this statute.

Mr Sumner added that inspectors are currently doing "spot-checks" on various hardware and building supply stores to ensure there is no hoarding of building supplies.