Online marketplaces used to bypass MRPs?
BY Ruwani Fonseka
After the issuance of a gazette notification last Thursday (2), which declared the maximum retail prices (MRPs) for sugar and rice with immediate effect, The Morning Business’s investigative desk uncovered that several small-scale retailers are bypassing the imposed MRPs through the sale of such products via a leading international mobile-based marketplace platform, which also offers cab hailing services.
The Morning Business learnt that upon visiting a retailer’s respective store on this platform, the prices of rice varieties reflect the imposed MRPs. However, a consumer cannot purchase the item without paying an additional “handling fee”. Together with the listed MRPs and the somewhat exorbitant “handling fee”, the total price of the item adds up to the price that rice was sold for before the gazetting of the MRPs.
Keeri samba and samba 5 kg bags are listed at Rs. 625 and Rs. 525, respectively, with a “handling fee” of Rs. 570 and Rs. 359, respectively.
When contacted by The Morning Business, a spokesperson for the company stated that it only functions as a marketplace connecting consumers with merchants.
“Merchant partners on the platform have the sole discretion to determine the pricing of the products offered by them, and are the ones that advertise the prices. We sent a proactive communication to the merchant partners about the notification within a day of it being issued. We continue to work closely with the authorities to ensure the interests of all stakeholders are protected,” the spokesperson told The Morning Business.
Meanwhile, Consumer Affairs Authority (CAA) Director Asela Bandara told The Morning Business that such “handling fees” are illegal and that the CAA had already informed the respective platforms to regulate and adjust prices as per the issuance of the gazette.
He further went on to note that amendments to the CAA Act are expected to allow action to be taken against individuals and companies who increase the prices of essential items and sell the goods above the controlled prices.
In terms of the gazette notifications on the imposition of MRPs for rice and sugar, they were issued by order of CAA Chairman Maj. Gen. (Retd.) Shantha Dissanayake, under Section 20 (5) of the CAA Act No. 9 of 2003.
According to the gazette, the MRPs of rice and sugar are as follows:
Keeri samba – Rs. 125 per kg
White/red samba – steamed/boiled (excluding suduru samba) – Rs. 103 per kg
White/red nadu – steamed/boiled (excluding mottaikarupan and attakari) – Rs. 98 per kg
White/red raw rice – Rs. 95 per kg
White sugar (unpacketed) – Rs. 122 per kg
White sugar (packeted) – Rs. 125 per kg
Brown or red sugar (unpacketed) – Rs. 125 per kg
Brown or red sugar (packeted) – Rs. 128 per kg