By Marion V. Ali
The Belize Bureau of Standards’ (BBS) Consumer Protection Unit has started to conduct inspection of grocery stores across the country that have been reported for selling sugar at the higher price of 75 cent a pound even before the January 1st date for the new prices take effect.
The announcement two weeks ago that the Government had approved a 25-cent increase on the price of white sugar, has encouaged some grocers to increase the price of the commodity immediately despite it being illegal.
Director of the Bureau, Jose Trejo said that so far, they have visited about 35 stores in Belize City, San Ignacio and Belmopan to ensure that sugar supplies are there and that these merchants have not increased the price yet. He said that inspectors have discovered some stores that have already increased the price of sugar, and they have informed the storekeepers to take the prices back down to 50 cents until January first.
Trejo also sounds a clear warning to those determined grocers who were displaying the price of their sugar and who, upon receiving a first caution to take down the price, have not removed the price from public display. He says the Consumer Protection Unit will “take some drastic measures” against these grocers.
Head of the Bureau’s Consumer Protection Unit, Rodolfo Gutierrez, informed the Reporter this week that apart from inspecting stores that have been complained about , the unit has also been proactive in doing random inspections.
“We have commenced collaborating with other agencies such as the Customs and Police to assist in better extending our outreach, and in cases where confiscations may need to happen.”
The Bureau’s resources are limited, however, and Trejo said the joint effort with the police will involve sting operations at stores whose owners are suspected of breaking the law. Any retailer found guilty of hiking the prices of commodities prematurely can be fined $1,000 or receive a sentence of six months imprisonment.