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Many companies are seeking fiscal incentives, tax exemptions and so on. Yet the common citizens continue to suffer at the whims and fancies of shopkeepers and suppliers.  Regulators such as the Office of the Consumer Protection (OCP), Thromde, Bhutan Food Regulatory Authority remain deaf to public outcries on uncontrollable prices and ignore the consumer’s right to safe food products. The report on prices on the sanitary pads reported this week is just one example. While the government boasts of narrowing the gap between poor and rich, the implementation seems contrary.  

The Custom Duty (Amendment) Act 2021 was enacted to reduce the price of imported goods. Reports on the ground show that many businesses have doubled the prices of goods and the contents of most third country imported goods, particularly that of food items remain unknown as labels are neither in English nor in Dzongkha. What guarantee is there that all of them are safe to consume and free of risks, and prices are determined fairly?

A simple example can be of noodles, sausages and soft drinks.  Neither their actual prices nor contents are known. In the case of price, the waiver on loan interest and deferment of loan payment has not translated into a reduction into rents, instead, house owners continue to increase house rents because the Tenancy Act allows it. The National Housing Corporation’s increase of rent in Phuentsholing recently is another simple example. 

Section 4 and 5 of the Consumer Protection Act, 2012 protects consumer’s right to true, sufficient, clear, and timely consumer education on prices and information on the goods including prices, characteristics, quality, and risks associated with goods to protect from economic exploitation and harm, ensure safety in the consumption of goods.  Section 7 and 8 protects the consumers from misleading indication of price or methods of determining the price and mandates every item displayed for the sale be affixed to its price conspicuously. 

The purpose of the display of price is not just for information, but to protect consumers from unreasonable pricing. Unfortunately, reports suggest that OCP fixes the prices based on what shopkeepers or suppliers, charging already in the market, and not on the method on which the price should have been determined. For example, if Sanitary Pad is priced at Nu.190 instead of its actual price of Nu.80 through the proper price determination method, OCP’s price catalogue will have Nu 190. If such is the case, what is the purpose of having a price catalogue because the market can easily manipulate prices of goods.

Bhutan Food Regulatory Authority under the Food Act of Bhutan and its Board among other duties, have the mandate to ensure proper labelling of food products, conduct educational activities to inform food businesses and importance of food safety and how they can improve the safety and quality of food in the country.  However, there are hardly any educational materials or activities on the contents, risks or safety of any food products imported in the country except few vegetables. The responsible agencies must ensure that consumers are protected and benefited from the tax exemptions through reduced prices and labels with a language we can understand to protect the safety of the consumers. Affordable essential goods will play a major factor in narrowing the gap between rich and poor. 

Sonam Tshering

Lawyer, Thimphu

Disclaimer: The views expressed in this article are author’s own.

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