Time and time again we hear the familiar cry from every crevice and orafice in the country for the government to intervene to regulate prices. Whether it’s food prices or the price of a stay in Double Palm guest house, citizens have no issue weeping and gnashing their teeth to those in authority for some relief. However, nobody seems to ask themselves if the government even has the power to do what they’re asking.
Let’s back back a bit and define exactly what we talking about. The technical term is “Price Gouging” and it is defined as “when a seller increases the prices of goods, services or commodities to a level much higher than is considered reasonable or fair”. This practice usually happens after a natural disaster or other state of emergency. Sounds familiar right? Here’s the kicker though, in Trinidad and Tobago there is no explicit law against price gouging. Price gouging is frowned upon, much like rushing for vaccines when it’s not your turn or reading someone’s ATM slip that they forgot in the machine. However it’s not illegal.
So you must be asking yourself is there no entity out there to protect the consumer from getting their “eyes dig-out”? Well, there a number of them actually. There is the Regulated Industries Commission (RIC) which regulates the delivery of services by WASA and T&TEC. The RIC is also the body that approves the proposed rates by those entities. So RIC is the man to vex with when yuh light bill rates go up.
Then there is the Consumer Affairs Division (CAD) which is the consumer protection and advocacy arm of the Ministry of Trade and Industry. According to their website “the CAD is charged with the responsibility to safeguard the economic interests of consumers”. However, the role of the CAD is to listen to your complaints and refer to other regulatory bodies if required, conduct research and educate you on prices out there. They’re kind of like a psychiatrist who listens to you and makes you talk about your oedipal urges but leaves you to work through your deviance on your own.
The Trinidad and Tobago Fair Trading Commission (TTFTC) is an independent Statutory Agency established pursuant to the Fair Trading Act 2006. Its objectives are to ensure that all legitimate business enterprises have an equal opportunity to participate in the economy, prevent anti-competitive conduct and encourage free and fair competition. Their wuk is to make sure everybody who raising the prices on yuh doing so on a level playing field….well that’s my interpretation.
Ahh…but what about the Trinidad and Tobago Bureau of Standards (TTBS)? Good question but nope, hard luck dey Daniel-san. According to their website the TTBS “has a statutory responsibility for the quality of goods and services, which are subject to trade in the Republic of Trinidad & Tobago, except food, drugs, cosmetics”.
Those are the only organizations that I am aware of whose mandates even remotely comes close to looking at prices and none of them have the power to tell Aunty Patsy’s Mini Mart what she can or cannot charge for a tin of corned beef. In a free market economy the most effective mechanism against price gouging is and has always been consumer choice. The consumer has the ultimate power to make their voices heard with their purchasing power. In other countries when there is a hike in prices the citizens come together and say “pump yuh brakes padna….not today. We not paying dat.” Guess what happens, the forces of demand and supply jump into action and prices are forced to readjust.
However, ask yourself this, why is that when there is a hint of the government making vaccines mandatory persons are quick to bawl “dictatorship!! we rights!! we rights!!” but then they quick to ask the government to step in to regulate private sector prices. What about the rights of the business people? If the government could tell businesses what to charge then why stop there? Why not let them tell workers what wage they should accept, parents what school to send their child to, men from Central what car to drive? Slippery slope my friends.
We know things hard for people especially in the grocery. It also does not help when people are unemployed and seeing Sassy Stores (name changed to protect the business) reporting huge profits. However, the government can only plead to businesses to not raise prices and also these businesses themselves face increased costs due to Covid supply chain issues.
So think before you jump out yourself asking for the government to act like we are a Socialist State even though in some respects we are.