Bread-and-butter budget needed

Finance Minister Colm Imbert - SUREASH CHOLAI
Finance Minister Colm Imbert - SUREASH CHOLAI

IF THERE were any doubt Finance Minister Colm Imbert must confront the bread-and-butter issues affecting citizens when he presents the budget next week, this was hammered home by Monday’s announcement by one of the country’s dominant bakers.

Announcing it will raise prices, the Kiss Baking Company said a loaf of bread will now cost $17 – representing an increase of 25 cents.

The company blamed escalations in raw materials as well as increased shipping costs due to pressures on global supply chains amid covid19.

In addition to its own products, Kiss produces the breads associated with the Coelho Baking Industries brand, which it took over decades ago – meaning the impact of these increases will be pervasive.

In response, some businesses on Monday promised they would keep prices down.

But despite such strategic assurances, bakers around the country have for months been signalling the inevitable. In July, Newsday reported at least three bakeries already increasing prices after months of absorbing costs, with one raising prices by as much as $1. Back then, Puff n Stuff owner Gregory Laing warned expenditure was inflating like a loaf in the oven.

“We are committed to holding our prices unchanged till September 30,” Mr Laing said ominously. “After which we may increase.”

That bread prices are on the rise might seem a minor problem amid a public health crisis.

But when considering the real-world impact these prices have on a wide cross-section of society, and the fact that the inflation environment has been for so long kept under control, the development is portentous. The State, and Mr Imbert, cannot turn a blind eye.

It was only a few weeks ago that National Flour Mills (NFM) assured it would continue to do its utmost to keep prices reasonable.

“We are mindful of the fact that we are in a trying time,” said NFM CEO Ian Mitchell. “There are a lot of families that are disadvantaged, there are a lot of people that are out of work…We understand the impact of us making adjustments to prices.”

Today, as the world observes the International Day of Awareness of Food Loss and Waste Reduction, we call on Mr Imbert to explain what happened to the plan to increase local food production and to counter the annual loss of stock through flooding by bolstering the agriculture sector to the tune of $500 million.

Come next week, Mr Imbert must also present more tangible support to vulnerable citizens, be they farmers or otherwise, through price controls as well as more effective grant support.

To do otherwise would be literally to take bread out of the mouths of citizens.


"Bread-and-butter budget needed"

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