The government will have to intervene if businesses keep on abusing of the current Coronavirus crisis by increasing the price of essential items, Economy Minister Silvio Schembri said on this week’s edition of Indepth.
Schembri was being interviewed by The Malta Independent’s Deputy Editor-in-chief Neil Camillieri about the financial packages that the government has announced during the past few weeks and the impact these have had on Malta’s economy.
One of the topics discussed was that of certain businesses trying to make a profit by abusing from this uncomfortable situation. At the start of the pandemic, copious amounts of complaints were made by the public about an rise in prices for high-demand items, such as hand sanitizers and face masks. However, some businesses are now even increasing the price of essential goods like food items.
During the Indepth interview, Schembri was asked if the government has any measures in place to fight back against this kind of abuse in order to regulate it.
“It is disgusting and unacceptable for anyone to try and profit from the current situation. This is an argument that we brought up weeks ago with the Chamber of Commerce,” Schembri said.
He asserted that the ministry made it very clear to the Chamber that this is a problematic issue, and that the Chamber is intervening in any case of abuse to try and rectify the situation.
Schembri explained that till now there have only been isolated incidents of such cases, and that these are being handled by the systems adopted by the Chamber itself. However, if these measures are deemed to be insufficient, the government is ready to take any necessary steps.
“It is not the government’s wish to intervene directly. However, the message that I want to drive home is that if this abuse persists, the government will have to intervene eventually,” Schembri emphasised.
This particular issue was also raised by PN MP Jason Azzopardi during Wednesday’s Parliamentary session, who called on the government to invoke the 1947 Supplies and Services Act and impose fixed prices on essential food items.
Quoting from the law, Azzopardi said that the Economy Minister can, through this Act, control the prices at which products which are essential to the life of the community can be sold at. “What are you waiting for?” he questioned.
Azzopardi had noted that France invoked a similar act in order to control the price of hand sanitizer, noting that the measure can be implemented temporarily for a period of, for instance, three months.
The PN MP had criticized PL MEP Alex Agius Saliba for calling on the European Commission to impose control and monitoring on unfairly high prices of essential items, noting that Agius Saliba should instead “tell his Economy Minister to wake up.”
In this regard, Justice Minister Edward Zammit Lewis said that the government is confident enough in the resources it has to such a point that it does not believe that extreme measures are required.
The full Indepth interview covering other topics like Air Malta and the reduction of water and electricity bills will be published tomorrow, on Sunday.