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Excuse for price manipulation

Syed Mansur Hashim | May 15, 2024 00:00:00

That Bangladesh's food market involving transport, import, wholesale and retail, follows absolutely no logic is now common knowledge. Every citizen in this country is by now used to price escalation of any given item by a margin of Tk 5.0 to Tk50 on any given day. The so-called 'market drives' conducted by magistrates with their retinue of law enforcers and an army of television crew following have not even made a dent in market price manipulation. Not because there aren't enough magistrates available but also the fact that the fines imposed are so miniscule in nature that those do not compel them to mend their ways and the consumers are ultimately made to bear them too.

Clearly, it defies logic. The litany of excuses market manipulators come up with for price hike are irrational and arbitrary. One such excuse borders on lunacy. The country's currency was recently devalued against the US dollar. The official rate of the Bangladesh Taka went from Tk110 to Tk117. The market for food commodities, everything ranging from staples to vegetables registered a matching price increase. But why? Even the green chilli's prices strangely were with exchange rate.

It would appear that our traders are in need of some psychological evaluation since the green chilli is a local produce and has nothing to do with import. Yet it managed to take the gold medal in the race to price increase amongst all the other food items in less than 24 hours since the announcement of the devaluation. It is an astonishing feat. To put it in a nutshell, the entire supply chain of food is now controlled by business coteries who couldn't care less about the government's dictates. It does not matter at all what the various ministries, departments, law enforcement agencies, the Tariff Commission and any other state entities that are somehow related to overseeing and protecting consumers' interests think or say.

The message is loud and clear. The government can be defied. All the consumers can do is whimper and shout and lick their collective wounds. It does not matter. All that matters are the outrageous profits being made through racketeering. The most that can be expected in the aftermath of this disastrous and quite frankly, ridiculous and seemingly unstoppable rise in food prices is more of the same. More meetings with businessmen in the presence of cabinet ministers, more assurances that this anarchy will not be tolerated, some more 'market drives' against the 'evil' manipulators. This endless drama has worn thin, as have consumers due to a lack of proper nourishment.

When no one is accountable and there is zero transparency in price structures, such situations arise. This happened in Russia for nearly a decade during Boris Yeltsin's rule. There was hyper-inflation, the market value of the rouble went from 4.0-6.0 roubles to a US dollar (that was the curb market rate) to hundreds, if not thousands of roubles to the dollar. The economy was effectively carved out by oligarchs who dictated policy to the Russian government. The people suffered in silence since their well-being no longer mattered. Is Bangladesh following a similar course where a few will make the most of the situation at the cost of the multitudes?

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