Consumer Affairs: No basis for price rise claims as deadline for VAT removal approaches

On one popular radio talk show, one consumer said she had seen the cost of milk move upward. Others have suggested that some business operators may not follow the law or adhere to the regulations.

Consumer Affairs Investigating Officer Vincent Fough said he knows these types of matters are being discussed on radio.

“I realize on a lot of the talk shows, people have been saying that there are certain business places that have taken up their prices on certain items,” said Fough, who indicated that the Department had investigated that matter up to the morning of April 2, but could find no evidence to support the claims, particularly on chicken, cheese and milk.

“The price has not gone up. Even the slice cheese that they said was increased at a particular place, it was 12 something, and when I checked, it was 11 ninety, so the price had gone down. The chicken price has not moved up. However, over the past days, I know that Carnation milk was on the rise worldwide,” the Consumer Affairs officer stated.

He suggested that consumers would help their cause if they can present a receipt when claims are made at Consumer Affairs. “That is the contract binding the consumer and the business place,” Fough informed, who explained further that the items must be coded showing items subject to VAT and the Non-VAT items.

Nevertheless, Fough views the Department’s consumer protection role as a serious obligation summed up in its commitment to police the removal of VAT from food items, but acknowledges the need for help from consumers.

“The Consumer Affairs Department would take on the policing. We would go out and monitor the different supermarkets. But, we can’t do it alone. We want consumers, if there is any query, to come to the Department and file a report, then we would look into the matter,” said Fough, who pointed out that the monitors cannot pick up everything.

According to Fough, the Department has already collected prices on various foods in supermarkets, as they build a database on food prices.

“Eventually, the Ministry of Finance and the prime minister would want to see an analysis, comparing before and after, for any justification to be taken on any ‘stakeholder’ if they so choose to breach the removal of VAT on food items,” Fough explained, as he assured the general public that the Department will do as much as it can to monitor the change over.

Meanwhile, the Chamber of Industry and Commerce (CIC) points to some areas of uncertainty, as the April 7 deadline approaches.

Particularly, the CIC Executive Director Calvin Cable points to some uncertainty in regards to what constitutes food, as he spoke of various classifications and sub-classifications of foods.

“There are a few issues as to what constitutes food. Some people have even asked about luxuries like and delicacies like chocolate bars. Some people are not too clear about alcohol, or what levels of alcohol are included in the measure. These would need to be cleared up,” said Cable.

But a senior Customs official confirmed with that VAT is to be removed from “all foods or all edible items, with the exception of alcohol”.

Most public and private sector officials believe that there would be some issues as the new regulation takes effect.

“There would be some minor issues at the time of change-over, and some surprises may arise, which people may not foresee at this time, because there are various concessions on other items out there that are not impacted in a straight-line way by the removal of VAT,” said Cable.

The Chamber has been a strong advocate for the removal of VAT, and suggests similarity to the removal of personal income tax.

“The Chamber of Industry and Commerce has seen that move as being one in a positive direction. We feel that it would help, especially among the poorest of the poor, to make spending power more readily available, so they could meet the pressures of the cost of living,” said Cable.

“There is an air of expectation, very similar to when income tax was removed in 1980, at a change of government,” Cable reflected.


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