May 21st, 2019
Business / শিল্প-বাণিজ্য
The sugar saga
July 24th, 20114,744 views

The fear that was lurking in the minds of consumers has come true. With the holy month of Ramadan remaining now less then two weeks away, the prices of most daily essentials are in the midst of yet another bout of an ascending spiral. None has the slightest clue about the termination point of the ongoing spiral; everything, as it seems, depends on the whims of the traders. In fact, barring one or two items, the prices of most essentials, with some occasional pause, have been rising in recent years. On the eve of every Ramadan, the pace of the hike, much to the discomfort of the common man, has always been fast. The governments, democratic or otherwise, have made futile attempts to rein in the same and their inability has drawn for them the flak from general consumers.

The incumbent government is no exception. For more than two and a half years, it has tried both hard and soft approaches to make the traders behave rationally so that essentials' prices remain within the reach of the common man. On its part, the government knows it well that the price issue can turn deadly during an unfavourable political climate. Unfortunately, most government moves have so far not been able to deliver the dividends, at least to the expected level. The commerce ministry has of late tried to replace the much-criticized and decades-old 'delivery order'-based trade of with 'distributorship' system with an aim to ensure smooth marketing of essentials such as edible oils and sugar, down to the upazila level at affordable prices. And the administration was in a hurry to complete the new process before Ramadan with the help of importers and refiners of these two items.

However, the latest move has, apparently, also backfired. This is particularly evident from the abnormal hike in the price of sugar and the disappearance of item from the market when the authorities concerned have been trying to enforce a price -- Tk. 65 a kilogram -- at the retail level. Incidentally, that price had earlier been agreed upon during a very recent meeting between the government officials and the traders. There is no plausible reason for short supply of sugar since the refiners and importers have sufficient quantity of the commodity in their stocks. Besides, the refiners of sugar and edible oils have assured the government of completing the distributorship network in compliance with an official directive. Yet retailers are not selling sugar and even if they do, they are asking very high price, between Tk. 75 and Tk. 80 a kg, from the consumers on the plea of their high procurement price. The situation in the case of edible oils is not as bad as sugar. The item is available in plenty but price the retailers are asking for, is much higher than the government-fixed one.

The ongoing development over the price of essentials is nothing new. It had also happened on several occasions in the past. The traders during their meetings with the ministers and high government officials make promises only to ignore the same later, rather deliberately. The businesses do hardly give true information to the government. A case in point is the appointment of dealers under the recently-introduced distributorship system. Most millers are yet to build their own network though they have assured the government of completing the same before the month of Ramadan. It is also evident that they have played foul with normal price and marketing of edible oil and sugar.

Consumers, particularly those belonging to the low and fixed-income groups, are damn angry over an unbridled and continuous hike in the prices of essentials. Yet they are helpless in the face of all the machinations of some unscrupulous traders who rule the roost in the market and the government's failure to aptly counter those. Some people suggest stern actions against rogue traders. But such actions taken in the past, proved to be counter-productive. There is no denying that keeping prices within the consumers' reach is a tough job when the market distortions are galore. Introduction of statutory rationing system for such groups of people may be considered by many as an effective answer. But this system in all likelihood will in all likelihood collapse within a short period mainly because of high incidence of corruption and wastage. Then how to deal with price problem? It is the job of the government to find an answer to this million-dollar question.