Shoppers are accusing some supermarkets of taking advantage of the coronavirus crisis by hiking up prices.

Many are taking to social media to voice anger at certain local businesses, who have marked up the cost of certain items from between 50 and 100 per cent.  “We’ve been receiving complaints for about two weeks now,” says the president of the Malta Consumer Association Benny Borg Bonello.

“The calls were mainly about products such as hand sanitisers, but we’ve also had people reporting smaller grocers.”

The NGO says it asked the government to monitor the situation and investigate the true extent of the problem, as well as identify which products are being affected.

“Monitoring is important so as to have a holistic view of the situation as complaints are usually selective,” Borg Bonello explained.

“If the monitoring shows this is quite extensive, we do recommend price caps, even though under normal circumstances we do not.”

It’s something consumer affairs lawyer Antoine Grima agrees with.

“It’s not a road we’d ideally like to pursue but it has been happening in other countries such as the UK and US, when people start to take advantage.

“These countries have similar justice systems to Malta, so maybe we should look to them for ideas and have a better watchdog mentality.”

Both he and the Consumer Association are also calling on the government to consider adapting laws, so the punishment is more fitting for the crime.

“Increasing a price is technically not illegal under what is called the Consumer Affairs Act,” Grima said.

“But maybe we need to use what’s called the Competition Law, which investigates human behaviour and unfair practices, rather than the price itself.

“If neither of these laws work, the government might even have to get tougher. This could mean enforcing price caps on certain essential items, or even worse we could have to start rationing.”

Grima is also encouraging dialogue between traders and the government.

“We are in exceptional circumstances and everyone is suffering, so we need a solution.

“There is no point in the government giving someone who has lost their job €800 a month, if the cost of living goes really high and they can’t support themselves,” he said.

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