FeaturedNationalVOLUME 17 ISSUE # 33

Inflation and market anarchy

The Pakistani market is free for all for price sharks and black marketers. On top of the basic economic factors underlying price movements, there are layers of undue profit that shopkeepers and retailers extract from the helpless consumers. There is no price resistance movement at the consumer level, while the government machinery responsible for keeping an eye on price movements is a total failure.

As all of us know from personal experience, besides spiralling inflation pushing steady increase in prices of everyday items, the artificial hike by manufacturers, wholesalers, retailers and service providers  has made the lives of ordinary people more miserable.

It is a hopeless situation as the authorities concerned either do not do their duties or at best take only cosmetic measures to bring some sense into the market. This is so because we have no scientific system of price and profit assessment and regulation, leading to record high rates of commodities which have become unbearable for the common man.

The need is to check on a daily basis the prices of fruits, vegetables, poultry, etc, which are dependent on daily demand and supply as well as prices of all commodities required by the common households. According to media reports,  price control magistrates in districts are only restricted to getting the officially notified prices implemented by retailers who, on the pretext of the increase in POL prices and other factors — import of pulses and other commodities, inflation, dollar exchange rate, price increase by wholesalers, manufacturers etc. – charge the consumers as per their own calculations and whims.

The recent hike in petrol and diesel prices has made the situation worse. It has given rise to an unprecedented wave of inflation. There is total chaos in the market which has made the life of the common man a daily nightmare. Price gouging is a worldwide phenomenon where businesses take advantage of a crisis to charge excessive prices for basic necessities – selling goods significantly above their normal price. But in Pakistan price gouging is a routine matter and has taken monstrous forms in the absence of a proactive regulatory authority.

According to the latest figures released by the Pakistan Bureau of Statistics, the inflation rate has climbed to an unprecedented 21.32 per cent, the highest in 14 years. Until April, the rate was 14.6pc. An item selling for, say, rupees one hundred yesterday will be priced at Rs 110 today and more tomorrow, This is the experience of consumers and housewives who go shopping for essentials on a daily basis.

When questioned about the increase, shopkeepers conveniently blame the increase in POL prices and electricity charges. In the midst of prevailing anarchy in recent months, there has been an excessive rise in the prices for various essential commodities, such as atta, rice, pulses and edibles. Also the prices of fruits and vegetables are being increased daily on the pretext of growing transport charges.

One of the tricks the market manipulators use is hoarding various commodities to create artificial shortages in the open markets in order to earn undue profit. The local administrations everywhere responsible for price control come out with their usual explanation that they are doing their duties properly, claiming that a price control system is in place in districts. But the truth is that all their activities are on paper only and are belied by the situation on the ground.

The district price control committees are supposed to meet regularly to notify the rates of various commodities after holding discussions with the representatives of consumers, traders, shopkeepers and manufacturers. But practically, nothing is done with the so-called paperwork having little effect on the situation.

A major shortcoming in this regard is the lack of a well-trained team of inspectors and experts to monitor the situation on a regular basis to assess, fix and regulate the prices. As such the market sharks, hoarders and black marketers are free to carry on with their shenanigans.

The price situation has taken a worse turn after the recent restrictions on business hours. Reduced working hours have given the shopkeepers another opportunity to fleece the consumers. They cite short supply as the reason for galloping prices.

A recent market survey revealed that the price situation has deteriorated to a level where poor families can hardly afford two square meals a day. In view of this grave situation, it is urgent that the authorities concerned launch a strong drive against market manipulators so that people can buy essential supplies at fair prices. For this purpose in every city and tehsil special police squads should be deputed to monitor market prices on a daily basis and take remedial action in case of violation of law.