TATIANA LAGES / LUSA

Legislators ask for stricter Gov’t oversight on essential goods price hikes

Legislators today warned at the Legislative Assembly (AL) that the government-backed consumer voucher scheme has worsened local inflation and asked for stronger actions to prevent price gouging in the city.

In the first quarter of this year, the consumer price index (CPI) has increased by 2.59 per cent when compared to the previous year, with the largest increases registered in food products and non-alcoholic drinks.

Local residents have also complained of price increases, especially in supermarkets, following the start of a consumer e-voucher programme on May 1 that injected some MOP2.1 billion (US$263 million) in the local market through individual MOP3,000 consumer cards to be used between May and July.

“Unfortunately, during the epidemic, the increase in prices and price-fixing failures in some stores has seriously affected the rights and residents’ interests,” legislator Song Pek Kei stated, noting that as the second phase of the consumer card scheme, this time MOP5,000 per resident, would start in August.

“In Macau, the high cost of living and high inflation are no longer new, but due to the epidemic, the international supply of goods became very tense, which resulted in the increase in the price of goods. At the same time, with the launch of the consumer card plan consumption, which provides for a daily limit of MOP300 and a term of three months, the imbalance between supply and demand, which has already verified in the market and that significantly increased prices”.

The legislator considered that despite the reinforcement of inspections by the CC and Economy Services Bureau (DSE) a “significant increase in product prices remains unresolved”, with these services lacking enough manpower to effectively oversee possible infractions and with the legal framework also not

Since the beginning of the scheme, the CC started inspecting supermarket prices two times per week, following several complaints of price hikes, and with the consumer rights watchdog even deciding to rescind supermarket chain Royal’s accreditation as a ‘Certified Store Quality Symbol’ for ‘failure to fix prices’.

For the Macau United Citizens Association legislator, one solution could be to extend the three-month allowed period for the consumer voucher scheme use, in order to reduce the imbalance between supply and demand.

For legislator Lam Iok Fok, during the consumer voucher second phase, the Government should enter into agreements with the participating stores and require them to ensure price stability and closely monitor the different types of complaints.

“To stores that raise prices significantly and who refuse to correct irregularities, the Government should consider cancelling your status as a participant in the consumer card plan,” Lam stated.

The legislator also addressed that almost half of the MOP568 million spent during the scheme’s first 10 days had gone to supermarkets and food and beverage establishments.

“The Government’s initial intention is to support SMEs which have limited cash flow, and who have been affected by the pandemic. If the consumer card is used mainly in larger supermarkets or chain stores, it is difficult to realize the initial intention,” he added.

He also asked for the scheme to better involve the local tourism and cultural industries, plus local taxis.

Meanwhile, legislator Ho Ion Sang stated that the restrictive measures imposed by Macau and Mainland China due to them during the pandemic crisis blocked residents from going to buy food in the mainland.

“They can only do so in Macau, where such high prices, especially for pork, are difficult to bear,” the legislator noted in the plenary.

According to Ho, since the middle of January, the selling price of pork meat remains at MOP3,090 for 60 kilogrammes, but that there is a “big difference between the wholesale and retail prices”.

“Butchers in municipal markets enjoy income exemptions, licensing and health inspection fees, which contributes to the significant cost reduction. However, there is a big difference in the prices of fresh and live products practised in the different markets and even in the stalls within markets, and pork sold in markets is more expensive than supermarkets,” the legislator elected through the Union for Promoting Progress stated

“These problems demonstrate the authorities’ lack of rigour in the inspection and enforcement of the law, therefore, the authorities must, with determination, restore the order of the markets and reinforce surveys. When irregularities occur, they must be investigative procedures are immediately initiated, and in the most serious situations, cancellation of licenses,” Ho added.

The legislators noted that authorities had indeed presented to AL a law proposal for the protection of consumer rights and interests in order to increase the powers of the CC and the right of access to consumer information, but added that the govenrment needed to advance with to accelerate the studies on the competition and the fight against the monopoly and clearly define the situations of usury, cartel and monopoly.