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Watch out prices during Ramzan

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14th-May-2018       
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Rayhan Ahmed Topader :
Every year we are promised by the relevant ministry that prices of essentials will be kept within reach during the holy month of Ramzan. Since, that promise is hardly ever kept people have stopped expecting anything in this regard. The ministry of commerce had a meeting of traders, law enforcement and officials from the various government agencies and departments along with importers and traders on April 1 to better gauge what stocks should be kept and how prices may be kept within acceptable limits. Some of the suggestions that came out of that meeting are doable, whilst others are more long term in nature. Traders have stated that the cost of transport has nearly doubled over the last three months due to weight limit set on trucks. The argument is that before the ban, trucks could carry 20 tonnes of goods per truck, but now the RHD division has set a limit of 22 tons (including the weight of the vehicle) and that means trucks can carry at best 9 tonnes.
While that argument may suffice for traders, they fail to point out that over-laden trucks suffered far more breakdowns and were involved in more accidents on highways which precipitated the move in the first place. The argument to lift the weight restriction at the cost of public safety is something the government will have to mull on in the run up to the holy month.
What we do not hear much about is any measure by authorities to stop transport owners from overcharging traders on goods shipped by truckers. It would be interesting to know precisely what the relevant authorities are planning to do about addressing other bottlenecks in the supply chain that add to cost of goods. There is the unfortunate case of the Chittagong port that has become synonymous with delayed shipment and discharge. One would have to agree with traders that most commodity movers end up paying extra since ships cannot dock and offload their goods on time.
The problems associated with the port are longstanding ones and there is little chance of things improving at that end unless policy directives are given to prioritise offloading for ships carrying essentials. Since, Ramzan is more than a month away and the time for inbound vessels carrying edibles will be known in advance to authorities, there is room to accommodate the docking and fast discharge of some of the bigger shipments of rice, rice flour, sugar, edible oil, lentils, onions, etc.
While we are informed that the government wishes to keep a friendly relationship with traders and control prices, we've seen that this policy hardly brings any boon at retail level. Whenever retailers are confronted by media about spiralling prices, they point the finger at wholesalers.
Wholesalers for their part had their say about millers in the meeting at the ministry of commerce and that was that mills make them wait a full three days at the mill gates even after the settlement of full payment before they receive their goods. As the month of holy Ramzan is coming up within a few days, people across Bangladesh are getting prepared to pass this month with proper religious solemnity and devoted prayers. At the same time ordinary citizens are highly worried about the price hike which hits the nation hard during the month of Ramzan every year.
The authorities concerned urge traders to keep prices of daily essential things under control but prices shoot through the roof during Ramzan all the time which is known to all. Consumers, business leaders, journalists, economists and civil society members have in the meantime called upon the retailers and wholesalers not to increase prices during Ramzan but the adverse effect of rising prices has already started impacting people throughout the country. It is often observed that prices go up without barriers during Ramzan despite sufficient and unhindered supply of all necessary foodstuffs like rice, lentil, onions, edible oil, spices, milk, sugar etc. This is a reflection of the unpalatable fact that prices are raised for no substantial reasons.
Making rapid profits is the only aim of such price hike-most of the people express this opinion. Even sometimes artificial crisis of goods is generated by hoarders to cause escalation of prices which is absolutely unethical and unlawful. Most of the people blame the failure of the regulatory authorities for this sort of undesirable situations which puts us in immense sufferings under the torturous loads of higher food prices. The unscrupulous hoarders who illegally store up food grains and edible things to forcibly make prices boom allegedly have strong alliance with influential politicians which is why the administrative departments cannot take any actions against this category of lawbreakers.
So, it is quite clear that the establishment of political fairness is an indispensable prerequisite to hold prices down during Ramzan. Not just Ramzan, prices should be kept within the tolerable range of the masses round the year. The pursuit for grabbing exorbitant profits by increasing prices unreasonably is not at all acceptable in a civilized country. Therefore, everyone looks forward to the government for proper initiatives to keep people away from hazards caused by excessive prices.
On the other hand, we need to rectify ourselves to an ample extent during Ramzan. Ramzan is a month of self-restraint and self-amendment but we in most of the cases do extravagant things during this month instead of practicing the dictums of simplicity and modesty that come with this sacred month.
Most of the solvent people in our country make a wide variety of food items for iftar during Ramzan. A lot of money is spent by the affluent rungs of society to host pompous iftar parties which breaches the principles and lessons of Ramzan. Ramzan is a month of spiritual quest, not a time for uncontrolled gluttony spreading out ten or twelve dainty dishes all over the dining tables across homes. People who have plenty of money can feed homeless, hungry, destitute men, women and children during Ramzan rather than organizing iftar parties for well-off guests. If we resist ourselves from spending too much money on redundant quantities of food, it would be helpful for curtailing prices.
At present the people of Bangladesh are going through much economic uncertainty due to the wide magnitude of corruption and irregularities which have plunged the country's banking sector into scary pitfalls. Allegedly big sums of money have been taken away from different banks by an immoral but powerful quarter of pranksters. Most of the state-owned and private banks are inflicted with insurmountable figures of defaulted loans for this reason reportedly. Enormous amounts of money are being illegally transferred to foreign countries by the same group of racketeers while the inactivity of Bangladesh Bank and Finance Ministry has disappointed all of us.
All the political parties of the country have a huge role to play for this purpose. Political parties should abstain from enforcing strikes or blockades during Ramzan. We have observed again and again that when large parties bring out rallies, processions or hold mass gatherings in any part of the capital it causes tremendous inconvenience to pedestrians, transports and commuters. So, better not to go for this kind of political programs during Ramzan so that general people can continue fasting and other theological activities during this month in a peaceful and smooth atmosphere.
So, what we see here are systemic problems at every stage of the supply chain. There is no point harping about "good brotherly relations" in the holy month because there will always be a syndicate comprising of powerful business entities who do create artificial crisis in the market despite ample supply of goods in the market.
All the major super-shops and dedicated online grocery shops have popped up over the last few years and their business is booming. One can literally order everything with a few clicks of the mouse and have the goods delivered to their doorstep. No more being stuck in the horrendous traffic to go to overcrowded bazaars. No more jostling with hundreds of other people to pick up the consumables that will go to make the favourite onion piajus and eggplant begunis.
However, the above scenario does not apply to the vast majority of the populace.
The holding of the meeting at the commerce ministry this year followed the usual pattern of promises about keeping prices stable on the premise that there are enough supplies.
What the public would prefer to see are steps taken in terms of holding dishonest business houses accountable which form syndicates every year to fleece customers during Ramzan time. That means strict price monitoring by the State of markets at all levels of the supply chain from importers, producers, wholesalers right down to retail level. It means a follow up of directives by the ministry and departments so that those involved in spiking up the price, do not cross the limit.

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