A total of 30 retailers from various provinces are currently under investigation for trying to unfairly profit from the country’s coronavirus outbreak after allegations of excessive price hikes were levelled against them.
The National Consumer Commission (NCC), working jointly with the Competition Commission, is currently investigating 19 retailers. That is in addition to the 11 retailers already under investigation by the Competition Commission.
Speaking on behalf of the NCC, acting Consumer Commissioner Thezi Mabuza confirmed that the NCC’s call centre had thus far received a number of complaints from consumers on excessive price hikes on items, including hand sanitizers, facial masks, Dettol and toilet paper, among others.
“I like to remind suppliers of goods and services to be mindful of the provisions of Section 3 of the Consumer Protection Act of 2008. The Act sets out its purpose which is, among others, to reduce and ameliorate any disadvantages experienced in accessing any supply of goods or services by consumers,” said Mabuza.
The aforementioned items fall under a list of 22 critical products and categories published by trade and industry minister Ebrahim Patel last week.
The minister instructed both the NCC and the Competition Commission to monitor the sale of items on this list to ensure they had no unjustified price increases.
Mabuza confirmed that both regulators had assembled teams of investigators to investigate these cases as per the minister’s instructions and that they were prioritising these cases given the country’s s official state of disaster.
The regulators have notified 11 companies of the intention to investigate the allegations of excessive price hikes, and the companies have acknowledged the regulators’ communication.
Investigations into the following 11 companies have commenced:
- Silver Oaks SuperSpar – Silverlakes, Pretoria East (Gauteng);
- Spar in Platterkloof – Platterkoof (Western Cape);
- North Safety – Paarden Eiland, Western Cape;
- Checkers Hyper –Kempton Park (Gauteng);
- National Overalls – Villeria Pretoria (Gauteng);
- Makro – Springfield, Durban (KZN);
- Clicks – Westgate Mall (Gauteng);
- Free State Pharmacy – Bloemfontein (Free State);
- Mopane Pharmacy – Nelspruit (Mpumalanga);
- Sea Side Pharmacy – Table View (Western Cape); and
- Pick n Pay in Milnerton – Milnerton (Western Cape).
In the coming weeks, the NCC will be issuing eight additional investigation certificates into four retailers in Gauteng, one in KwaZulu-Natal, two in the North West and one in Limpopo who have also been accused of excessive pricing on goods such as face masks and hand sanitizers.
“A fine of up to R1 million or up to 10% of a firm’s annual turnover or even imprisonment for a period not exceeding 12 months will be imposed to a company or retailer found guilty of price gouging,” Mabuza warned.
Mabuza further noted the Commission’s concern that panic buying was happening in the days and hours leading up to lockdown.
“This leads to shortages of basic consumer commodities and overpricing, or price gouging.”
She urged all South Africans to continue monitoring the market and lodge complaints should they notice a sharp price increase.
The NCC’s toll-free number is 0800 014 880 or 012 428 700 during office hours.
By Citizen reporter