The Anti-Price Gouging Task Force has not been effective so the government is now trying to pivot to different ways to control the mark-up of prices for goods and services by businesses in the territory.
Back in March, former Premier Andrew Fahie
said a new task force was being established to monitor gas prices and the cost if goods to ensure that businesses did not increase their prices unjustifiably.
The monitoring team was to be made up of Customs officers and members of the Department of Trade. It was promised that the team would visit the businesses and check invoices of the last imported price on goods and fuels to ensure the markup was fair and reasonable.
However, a month later, the former Premier said Virgin Islanders must wait as the task force was not in operation. Now, current Premier and Minister of Finance Dr Natalio Wheatley has finally put to bed the questions and in a press conference on Friday, he said the task force did not accomplish what it should have.
“Based on my investigations, the task force never really functioned but that is why I mentioned in this statement, that on an ongoing basis, we are going to bring together the Trade Commission and the Trade Commission has set up a Consumer Affairs Unit. Of course, the Trade Commission has not been brought into effect yet. But once it is brought into effect, it is going to have a Consumer Affairs Unit and that is really going to be the goal of the Unit,” the Premier said.
“They will work together with Central Statistics Office. They will work together with Customs. They will work together with the Ports to ensure that we have a system in place to not only monitor prices but if we have specific initiatives like concessions and we want to ensure that prices are passed on to the consumer, we will come up with a specific mechanism to making sure that takes place which will include collecting information from these particular businesses,” Dr Wheatley said.
The Premier also noted that the government is targeting different initiatives to ensure businesses can continue to operate with a profit, while consumers do not struggle with the increase in prices because of circumstances beyond their control.
“Maybe [that will come in the form of] agreeing on a particular markup on a specific basket of goods and of course, we also want to have discussions with these businesses in terms of what we can do to provide better prices to these businesses. Whether there are some adjustments we must make to our policy on the Ports and whether we must take a look at our CAP (Customs Automated Processing) System and what modifications would have to be made to our CAP system for customs,” Dr Wheatley said.
“So, now is a good opportunity I would say for us to have a broader conversation. We have engaged the BVICCHA (BVI Chamber of Commerce and Hotel Association) on the matter. So, we are going to be engaged with them on this matter. So, we want to have a conversation with our supermarkets; those persons who import heavily, our hardware stores and have a real conversation. Not an adversarial conversation,” he added.
The Premier said he understands how difficult it is to run a successful business so he wants to have a conversation on how the government can assist as the ultimate goal is not only to increase profits but to provide relief directly to the consumers.