Manager of the Tobago House of Assembly (THA) Division of Finance and the Economy’s Consumer Affairs Unit, Langdon Phillips is urging consumers to be vigilant. Phillips said the unit has received and investigated several reports of price gouging since the announcement of the first covid19 case in TT.
“We are actually investigating all reports. When someone makes a report, we investigate that matter and also the ones that we would have seen on social media. Officers would have gone to make checks also,” he said.
Phillips said even as these records are maintained, the unit is asking consumers to be particularly vigilant at this time and to only purchase necessary items in the quantities needed. Retailers, he said are also being called upon to avoid engaging in the unpatriotic practice of price gouging, particularly during this time of crisis.
“We know that the price was indeed higher at this one drugstore and that is the only one that we have been unable to investigate. With all matters, we often like to give the supplier the opportunity to explain what is taking place so that one we didn’t get to complete that one. The other one where the price of the hand sanitiser… they are saying that this is the price from the wholesaler but we didn’t get through to make contact with the wholesaler as yet,” Phillips said.
He said it is also instructive to note that such a practice will not only negatively impact customer loyalty in the future but can also cause the business to face public relations repercussions on a wider scale. He noted that at present, TT does not have legislation specifically aimed at preventing price gouging or prosecuting persons engaged in this practice.
“That’s the sad part about it but there’s also the good part about it. The sad part of it is that at present in TT, we don’t have laws for price gouging as in the US.
“Ultimately, what we always try to ensure is that customers know that they have the right to choose. Once you see that the prices seem to be exorbitant or so, they can choose not to buy and then it is their responsibility that once you see something like that, you report it to other customers and you tell us, report it to us so that we can actually look into that and see what best can be done in the situation,” he said adding that there are other consumer laws that can take effect.
“If it can be deemed that the business is doing something improper from another standpoint… then we can act. There is price control on certain goods, certain drugs, certain pharmaceuticals will have a limit, so price gouging could take place if the prices are improper in terms of the few items that still have like price control but other than that we won’t be able to do anything pertaining to the prices being elevated unless it is a stipulated price range by the government,” Phillips said.
Consumers who notice instances of price gouging, he said are asked to notify the Consumer Affairs Unit, by either calling the Consumer Affairs Unit at 639-4412 Extensions 51500, 51506 and 51507 or; by sending a Private Message to the Unit’s Facebook page (www.facebook.com/ConsumerAffairsTHA).
Phillips said consumers are reminded that even at this time, they have a duty to exercise their number one right, the right to choose.