Mbabane: EmaSwati in many parts across the country are complaining about inflated prices by rural retail outlets. Last month, the Inspectorate Task Team comprising of the Commerce Ministry, MPs, Police and the Competition Commission began inspecting businesses to determine claims of price inflation and unfair business practices. The team went to Matsapha and Manzini. Rural folk said their fate was worse than those who leave in urban places due financial limitation and the little they had was being taken by retailers.
A random visit to some businesses in the rural areas showed that prices were either hiked or kept at the same charges as before. Questions as to why prices were hiked while government had stated clearly that they shouldn’t, were met with resistance on the part of the retailers, with some saying they were equally affected by the Covid-19 outbreak and needed to survive. The businesses will not be named because they have not been reported to the Eswatini Competition Comission (ECC), the regulatory body responsible for regulating the competition and the welfare and protection of consumers in the country.
Gogo Masuku* of Nkoyoyo outside Mbabane said the inflated prices in many of the Asian shops in the area have severely depleted her monthly elderly grants. Gogo Masuku said she spends most of her grant in buying groceries for herself and grandchildren, but has found herself empty handed after most of the shops within the area to have inflated the prices. Most of the businesses in question are those operated by Asians, who apparently have taken advantage of the perceived sloppiness of the Inspectorate Task Team commissioned by the Ministry of Commerce, Industry and Trade, to also visit rural communities, which are more susceptible to predatory pricing.
Eswatini Consumer Association Chairman, Bongani ‘Bhanyaza’ Mdluli said consumers should not think twice about reporting predatory pricing by businesses to the consumer association and ECC, and they will be dealt with accordingly. He said adherence to government’s rules supported by the association and the commission is not an option but a necessity if saving one’s business is concerned. Mdluli added that predatory businesses stood to be closed and thus risk losing their income. “Consumers must be vigilant and refuse to indulge in predatory pricing but rather report the matter to the relevant authorities.
Drawn for comment, Ministry of Commerce Industry and Trade Communications Officer, Thabile Mdluli, said that despite that the inspectorate is perceived as slow, it is expected to go across all the four regions of the country to inspect businesses and to ensure adherence to the government’s rules. “The ministry will have zero tolerance on businesses found to be taking advantage of Emaswati and will either revoke their licenses or close them down until the pandemic has stabilized,” recapped Mdluli.
ECC will, as from July 13 this year effect new guidelines which are meant to promote fair competition and protection against anti- competitive practices in the electronic communications sector in the country.
Some practices are deemed anti-competitive if…
• If he conceals actual prices/cost of products and services to the consumer
• Attempts to lock in consumers by any unfair means including placing unreasonably high switching costs
• Undertakes bundling of services whereby a consumer is required to purchase one product or service over which the licensee has market power conditional on the purchase of a second, competitively supplied, product or service whereas the two products or services can be provided and consumed independent of each other
• Indulges in a decision mutually beneficial to licensees in a specific relevant market or market segment
• Engages in any other anti-competitive practice that may have the effect of impeding or preventing a competitor’s entry into or expansion in a relevant market or market segment in an unfair manner
• Predatory behaviour towards competitors including the use of predatory cost pricing to damage, hinder or eliminate competition
• Discriminatory pricing and discrimination, in terms and conditions, in the supply or purchase of goods and services, including by means of pricing policies in transactions between affiliated enterprises which overcharge or undercharge for goods or services purchased or supplied as compared with prices for similar or comparable transactions outside affiliated enterprises
• Making the supply of goods or services dependent upon the acceptance of restrictions on the distributions or manufacture of competing or other goods or the provision of competing or other services;
• Making the supply of particular goods or services dependent upon the purchase of other goods or services from the supplier to the consignee
• Resale price maintenance
• Trade agreements fixing prices between persons engaged in the business of selling goods or services, which agreements hinder or prevent the sale, supply or purchase of goods or services between persons, or limit or restrict the terms and conditions of sale or supply or purchase between persons engaged in the sale of purchased goods or services
• Refusal to supply goods or services to potential purchasers
• Denials of access to an arrangement or association which is crucial to competition