The National Consumer Commission (NCC) working jointly with the Competition Commission have launched an investigation into allegations of price gouging by 30 retailers from different provinces.
Trade, Industry and Competition Minister Ebrahim Patel in mid-March published a list of 22 critical products and categories which he instructed both regulators, the NCC and the commission, to monitor and ensure no unjustified price increases thereof.
The NCC through its call centre received a number of complaints from consumers of excessive price hikes on high-demand items like hand sanitisers, facial masks, disinfectant (Dettol in particular) and toilet paper, besides other items.
The NCC will undertake the investigation of 19 of the cases, while the commission will look into the other 11 cases.
NCC acting consumer commissioner Thezi Mabuza says the commission has a critical role to play during this time of need, reminding suppliers of goods and services to be mindful of the provisions of Section 3 of the Consumer Protection Act.
“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.”
To this end, both regulators have assembled a team of investigators to investigate these cases.
She points out that South Africa is in a state of disaster as a result of the rampant spread of Covid-19 and, therefore, the NCC is prioritising these cases. “We have notified the (implicated) 11 companies of our intention to investigate allegations of excessive price hikes and they have acknowledged our communique.”
In addition, the NCC will be issuing eight additional investigation certificates (four in Gauteng, one in KwaZulu-Natal, two in the North West and one in Limpopo). These allegations are also against the excessive prices of items or goods like face masks and hand sanitisers.
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 on a company/retailer found guilty of price gouging.
Mabuza added that the NCC has noted with concern panic buying that is currently occurring as people stockpile ahead of a national lockdown, effective on March 27. She says this leads to shortages of basic consumer commodities, and over pricing, or price gouging.
“I urge 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).Creamer Media Senior Deputy Editor Online