Consumers in Dominica have been advised to guard themselves against the gouging of prices of food items after Hurricane Maria since the government has reduced duties on foodstuff.
Comptroller of Custom Roderick Deschamps said that he expects businesses to capitalize on the reduced rates and pass it on to the consumer.
“And consumers again are asked to guard themselves against the gouging of prices on these food items,” he stated.
There have been reports that prices of items are being raised on the island by those who wanted to cash in on the devastation caused by Maria.
The matter has even attracted the attention of Prime Minister Roosevelt Skerrit who described the practice as ‘unfair,’ saying the government has reduced the duties on many items including foodstuff.
Speaking at the daily government press briefing on Wednesday, Deschamp said the commercial sector was given an avenue to take advantage of the reduced rates.
“Foodstuff mainly attract duties of practically 45 percent and some can reach as high as 150 percent, especially in the case of carrots and other frozen vegetables,” he said. “Some juices attract duties of approximately 130 percent. The Prime Minister took the initiative and again I said to reduce the duties on foodstuff to 5.5 percent which signifies a vast reduction in duties.”
He stated that based on experience, he can go to any store, see any item and know what the duties are like.
“I will just take an example, carrots, which I believe the overall duty on carrot is about 126 percent, the duties have now been reduced to 5. 5 percent,” he said. “I am trying to understand the reasons why I would not expect carrots to drop in price …to me it makes no mathematical sense.”
Deschamp said he expects prices on food items to go down.
“I would expect, I am not sure if it is happening yet, that prices on the shelf, as the Prime Minister indicated, should go down,” he noted.
Meanwhile, Comptroller of Inland Revenue Irving Williams stated that retailers cannot be forced to sell goods at a particular price despite the reduction in duties.
With the reduction in duties, such as the non-payment of VAT, Willams said consumers expect to pay less for what they purchase but this may not necessarily be the case.
“Since no import duties are being charged at the port of entry, it is expected that the person who sells those goods should have a reduction in the cost of goods, therefore those items should be cheaper. Although such should be the case, no one can force the retailer to sell at a particular price. It is left for the business to be considerate and not take advantage of consumers,” he said.
He stated his opinion is that the waiver is to give people the opportunity to rebuild with as much ease as possible.
“So without import duties, goods are made cheaper than the ordinary person or every person who experience some disaster is able to recuperate. However the advice from me is that you don’t buy any item that is considered to be more expensive than its value,” he said.