Consumers have been urged to act against anti-competitive, unfair, and unreasonable practices by firms during the Covid-19 pandemic.
This sentiment was echoed by panellists during an online stakeholders dialogue on the Pricing Regulations and Other Related Matters hosted by the Department of Trade, Industry and Competition (the dtic), in conjunction with the Competition Commission, National Consumer Commission, Consumer Goods and Services Ombud and Proudly South African.
The dialogue was aimed at educating consumers about price regulations, price hikes, price controls as well as to outline the regulations that businesses must comply with during the Covid-19 pandemic.
According to the Director at the Centre for Competition Law and Economics, Stellenbosch University, Professor Willem Boshoff, there is a need to take careful consideration on the factors that drive price increases, especially if they relate to demand-led prices.
He mentioned that a lot of interventions that were seen in the past year were modelled on similar types of regulations that were created to respond to natural disasters.
“We are dealing with a disaster that is prolonged and that creates challenges for us. On one hand you are dealing with price gouging and other offences, and on the other, because of the extended period of the disaster, you also need to be very careful to allow demand to push prices slightly high in some areas to make sure that you get increased supply of the goods on the shelf. I think that is going to be a major challenge for most agencies as we go ahead. How you deal with very high prices is going to be complicated,” said Boshoff.
Boshof advised consumers to keep in mind that the agencies can only help to a certain extent, and they cannot monitor all prices and be aware of all cases. Therefore, consumer education is imperative so that consumers themselves are able to judge if something is wrong.
Significantly, Boshoff said for the economy to grow, it was imperative to increase the number of companies because that increases competition which in turn reduces the ability of particular firms to charge high prices.
The Principal Analyst at the Competition Commission, Mr Sipho Mtombeni said there was an interesting time ahead as we are looking to recover the economy, all efforts need to align with the government’s efforts to recover the economy.
“The pandemic has caused us to reprioritise and deal with the influx of complaints that increased because of the pandemic with the intention of protecting the citizens.
“During the pandemic, the Commission received over 2 000 complaints against retailers, suppliers and pharmacies who supply essential goods and services, and personal protective equipment,” added Mtombeni.
The Company Secretary at the National Consumer Commission, Mr Joseph Selolo, said the Covid-19 pandemic was something that no one could have anticipated.
He added that the Commission saw a number of evils in the consumer space, not only the price gouging, but also the pyramid schemes, as well as online scams for online shoppers that the regulator has been working to put a stop to.
“We have tried to educate the consumers that the first line of defence is the consumers themselves, by ensuring that they transact with reputable suppliers to avoid being scammed by individuals masquerading as suppliers.
“We are encouraging consumers to continue lodging complains as far as price gouging activities are concerned and the regulator will continue to investigate and give redress to the consumers were possible,” said Selolo.
While unpacking the impact of Covid-19, the Ombud at Consumer Goods and Services Office, Ms Magauta Mphahlele said from 1 March 2020 to 31 May 2021, the Ombud received 1 758 complaints relating to pricing issues, 60% of which were overselling.
She added that the lockdown accelerated the move to online shopping but this came with its own teething problems and a huge increase in online complaints, scamsters took advantage of consumers.
Consumers are encouraged to send their complaints or any information to: The Competition Commission: Email: email@example.com or WhatsApp: 084 743 0000 | The National Consumer Commission: Email: Complaints@thencc.org.za or Call: 012 428 7000 | Consumer Goods and Services Ombud: Email: firstname.lastname@example.org WhatsApp 081 335 3005