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Mar 31, 2023

Belize Chinese Association and Government Ministers Meet to Discuss Price Gouging

The discussion around price gouging involving local Chinese business owners became more prevalent during the COVID-19 pandemic. As the Briceño Administration steers the ship of economic rebound, Belizeans across the country have been bitterly complaining about the increased cost of goods at the stores. The blame, for the most part, has been placed on the inflated cost of importation. But, an argument can be made that the price on some items are unjustifiably high. A new law has been enacted that will enable a select group of public officers to ticket store owners for price gouging. And, today government ministers met with the Belize Chinese Association to explain this new law and to get their feedback. News Five’s Paul Lopez reports.


Paul Lopez, Reporting

This morning, the Belize Chinese Association met with a number of government ministers at the prime minister’s office in Belize City to discuss the issue of price gouging at local Chinese stores. Armed with a bag of grocery items bought from separate stores in Belize City, Lennox Nicholson sought to demonstrate to members of the association examples of how the prices of goods vary from store to store.


Lennox Nicholson

Lennox Nicholson, Controller of Supplies, Ministry of Agriculture

“We’re just doing some basic demonstration of some of the stuff that we bought. No, most of them, in some instances, we bought one sample at a store that would have a price that we would consider average or moderate. And, the other one we would buy somewhere that would have it at a price of maybe a dollar and change above the average. And so basically what we were trying to do is just to demonstrate. The matter of gouging is actually real. And it’s not, it’s not something that, that we’re discussing without some conclusive information.”


The closed door meeting lasted for approximately one hour. Thereafter, Jose Mai, the Minister of Agriculture, Food Security, and Industry spoke with reporters about discussions held.


Jose Abelardo Mai

Jose Abelardo Mai, Minister of Agriculture

“I think we are all aware that the law now, it is law now, there is an amendment to the Supply Control Act which was passed in the House. I think it went through the Senate and now it is about to be law, but that amendment is to deal with the allegation of gouging. The Supply Controls Act now, the officers are allowed now to issue tickets. We have been in consultations with the store owners for some time. We have been on the media explaining what we will do. Today we had the opportunity to meet with our partners in the community which is the Chinese community which essentially own the shops. Many of them are wholesalers and retailers, but as partners in this we explained to them what the regulations are now and how they can help us to control the gouging.”


With the new amendment to the Supplies Control Act, a select group of public officers will be authorized to issue tickets to store owners in the event that there is a case of alleged price gouging. Following the meeting, Johnston Ou, the President of the Belize Chinese Association, told reporters that for the most part their members are secondary wholesalers and retailers who have no control over the price of goods.


Johnston Ou

Johnston Ou, President, Belize Chinese Association

“We just, the secondary wholesaler, some of us majority just the retailer. So this, to solve the, solve this, we need to come to the very top. We need to go to the very top. Yeah.”


Paul Lopez

“What’s your thought on the, uh, ticketing system that has been recently implemented? Uh, is there consensus within the community to subject themselves to such a legislation?”


Johnston Ou

“That ticketing to me is, that is very hard to justify is, um, to prove it is hard. I mean, to, um, for the, for, for any officer officer, to issue a ticket to any premises is very easy. But is it to, to if the, the officer is doing the right thing and does he or her, she, do, , the necessary things to find out if that premises is violating  to where to qualify for that ticket. So that’s very hard. That’s very tough. That cause many, a lot of arguments.”


So, according to Ou, if an individual seeking to issue a ticket to a store owner for alleged gouging is not properly equipped to prove that the store owner is in fact in violation of the law, an argument between the issuer and that store owner could possibly ensue. This, he says is one concern. But, Ou was also not prepared to out rightly agree that some store owners are in fact taking advantage of consumers with their prices.  Though, he says if proven that store owner should be penalized.


Paul Lopez

“Would you agree that, to an extent there are some members of your community taking advantage of the whole issue of inflation and the conversation of inflation as an excuse to, uh, unjustifiably increase their prices?”


Johnston Ou

“I can’t say that, but it’s a possibility. And if any, anybody doing that well, that one should get penalized.”


Ou has now publicly declared that he is open to the idea of store owners being ticketed for price gouging; however, the work ahead for the government is to determine where the reasonable price point for an item ends and where price gouging begins.


Lennox Nicolson

“What we need to do as the enforcement agency is to be able to, to distinguish where imported inflation ends and gouging starts, and you would’ve noticed that certain goods were taken into the room. And we, we explain some of our findings from inspections that where we can show where that imported inflation aspect ended and where the gouging. And the minister mentioned about our collaboration with the community because that is key. Because one of the things we need to be able to do is to map through the entire distribution chain and identify exactly where the problem point may be.”


Reporting for News Five, I am Paul Lopez.

Viewers please note: This Internet newscast is a verbatim transcript of our evening television newscast. Where speakers use Kriol, we attempt to faithfully reproduce the quotes using a standard spelling system.

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