Tembinkosi Bonakele. Picture: PETER MOGAKI
Tembinkosi Bonakele. Picture: PETER MOGAKI

Stricter pricing regulations could soon be imposed as authorities move to deal with retailers looking to cash in on the coronavirus outbreak.

“We have sent a letter to all national retailers to request that they notify us of any [abnormal] price increases, but we have not received a response yet. We are receiving numerous complaints [about price increases],”  competition commissioner Tembinkosi Bonakele said during a news conference on Wednesday.

“If we do not get any response, we have to assume it is them [national retailers] that are profiteering,” he said.

The coronavirus has wreaked havoc across the world, rapidly spreading from its epicentre in Wuhan, Chin, a to more than 190 countries. On Monday, President Cyril Ramaphosa announced a three-week nationwide lockdown, effective from midnight on Thursday, as the government tries to curb the spread of Covid-19.

On Tuesday, trade & industry minister Ebrahim Patel said that competition authorities are investigating 11 firms for selling products such as masks and sanitisers, at inflated prices. Those found guilty will be fined up to 10% of turnover or one year in jail.

Bonakele said regulators have a duty to advise governments when markets do not work.

“[If markets do not work] governments will have no choice but to impose restrictions,” he said.

He said competition authorities would continue monitoring prices during the lockdown. Authorities have observed a surge in maize prices, for example, but it is understood the increases are partly due to growing demand from Zimbabwe.  

“We are joining the minister in calling on the business community, the large supermarket chains and franchises to work with the government. If there are strict [pricing] regulations it is these that will suffer more,” Bonakele said.

phakathib@businesslive.co.za