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Snitching on traders, retailers and suppliers was the only way to beat excessive pricing of goods and ensure that outlets adhere to the Competition Act’s amended regulations.
Since the announcement of a national shutdown due to the Covid-19 outbreak, the Competition Commission have been collaborating with the National Consumer Commission (NCC) to deal with exploitative practices and abuse of dominance relating to the virus.
There has, however, been a steady decline in the number of reported cases to the Commission.
While the commission has received over 800 complaints of excessive pricing since the start of the lockdown, the daily reports had gone down from about 100 per day to somewhere in the 50s, spokesperson Sipho Ngwema says.
The NCC has received 335 complaints relating to price hiking of goods and services essential in combating Covid-19, acting commissioner Thezi Mabuza said. This after the NCC established a toll-free number dedicated to such complaints which started on 23 March and only operates on weekdays.
Those found to have transgressed the regulations were immediately pounced on, resulting in reversals, reimbursements and freezing of price increases by companies such as Massmart, Ngwema said.
“We have directly intervened, instructed traders and suppliers to cease and desist while we continue to investigate. We are about to prosecute some of them fairly soon. We are quite content with the response to our interventions.”
Mabuza said the NCC would take the supplier to the National Consumer Tribunal for prosecution should they be found to unfairly and unreasonably hike prices.
Suppliers could be fined up to R1 million or up to 10% of their annual turnover or even face 12 months imprisonment.
Sticking to the regulations requires retailers, traders, and suppliers to be reported should they flout the rules, said Nick Altini, partner at competition law firm Herbert Smith Freehills SA.
“The effectiveness of the excessive/unfair pricing regulations depends upon consumers being willing to report retailers, and retailers being willing to report their suppliers, to the Competition Commission and/or [National Consumer Commission]. From there, the relevant regulator will investigate urgently and if there is a need for prosecution, then this will also happen very quickly,” said Altini.
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