February 28, 2023
DHAKA – Before every Ramadan, we see prices of essentials rising in our kitchen markets, in ways that defy logic. At a time when commodity prices are already sky-high, and people are suffering at an unprecedented level economically, the government needs to implement well-thought-out measures to curb commodity prices from rising any further. It is in such a context that the president of the Federation of Bangladesh Chambers of Commerce and Industry (FBCCI) recently commented that deployment of joint forces to keep watch on the essentials market during Ramadan would not yield the desired results. We believe that his comment should be taken seriously by the government in the interest of both consumers and the business community.
The joint forces were engaged in monitoring the market during the tenure of the last caretaker government. We understand that the business community is genuinely apprehensive about being harassed in the name of market monitoring. But at the same time, and more importantly, the tendency to artificially increase prices of essentials right before and during Ramadan must be addressed.
The government needs to conduct careful and detailed market analysis to solve the problem, instead of spewing arbitrary measures, hoping they would work. As the business community has said, to control prices from rising exorbitantly, the government must ensure the adequate availability of all items in the market. For that, import of essentials and their supply chains have to be made smoother. If the price of the dollar rises quickly, it is most likely that the business-people will transfer the additional costs onto consumers. The government, particularly the commerce ministry, has to keep a close eye on that.
Extortionists often push up the prices of commodities in our markets. Such disruptive behaviours have to be reined in by the government. The hoarding of goods to fabricate their shortage must be stopped. Collusion among monopolists is another major reason why prices often go up more in the domestic market, as compared to the international market. The government has to try and increase the number of suppliers and increase competition to ensure commodity prices stay reasonable. Consequently, the government also has to make sure that its market monitoring mechanisms are well targeted. There have been times where we have seen traders colluding to artificially push prices up. Instead of harassing honest traders, the government’s market monitoring objectives should be to identify such collusive behaviour and to punish those traders who try to manipulate the market.
The government does not have an easy task at hand here. Given our current reality, to prevent prices of essentials from increasing further, the government has to come up with a holistic approach. It should, therefore, involve experts, members of the business community, and all other stakeholders to come up with a comprehensive programme that takes all necessary factors into consideration.