KINGSTON, Jamaica, March 31, 2020 (CMC) – The Jamaica government says, as of today, retailers found to be charging customers excessive prices for goods, during the novel coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic, can be fined up to two million dollars or sentenced to two years’ imprisonment.
Both the House of Representatives and the Senate have approved the Trade (Sale of Goods During Period of Declaration of Disaster Area) Order 2020, as a means of stamping out recent cases of price gouging, stemming from the COVID-19 crisis.
Under the Order, no person, whose business includes the retail sale of goods, shall sell any necessary goods to another person at a price higher than the price charged, immediately before the coming into force of the Disaster Risk Management (Declaration of Disaster Area) Order, 2020, on March 18.
This is unless that person proves that the difference in the price, in question, is attributable solely to the cost to business concerned for obtaining the particular goods.
The new legislation covers a number of items, including food or drink; personal care items such as soap, cleaning products, antibacterial products, toiletries, alcohol, hand sanitisers, bleach, and gloves; and medical supplies, including surgical masks and prescription and non-prescription medication.
Foreign Affairs and Foreign Trade Minister, Kamina Johnson Smith, who introduced the Order in the Senate, said it is aimed at protecting consumers.
“Unfortunately, it has been that various business enterprises have sought to exploit the current situation, by increasing prices of goods, without apparent justification, and this is being called price gouging. The government now, therefore, seeks to protect consumers, by promulgating the Trade (Sale of Goods During Period of Declaration of Disaster Area) Order 2020,” she said, noting that agricultural goods are not included in the Order at this time.
“The relevant Ministry has determined that it will keep the matter under review, such that if it does become necessary, then they will issue a similar Order, but under the Agriculture Product Act,” she said.
Leader of Opposition Business in the Senate, Donna Scott Motley, said the Order aims to protect the most vulnerable members of the population.
Under the Order, the Consumer Affairs Commission (CAC) has been authorised, on behalf of the Industry Minister, to demand that books, accounts and other documents, relating to the particular business, be provided, so that claims of price gouging can be investigated.