Hoarding of Cooking Gas

February 13, 2018

It has become a common practice for unscrupulous traders to stock up on items for which they anticipate a price increase. This is done with the aim to sell the products at a higher price when price increase kicks in. Consumers often become victims of such unethical practices where traders refuse to sell items although they have the items in stock.

The recent fuel/gas price change saw significant increase in the cost of unleaded, diesel, kerosene and premix fuel prices along with increases in 4.5kg and 12kg cylinder cooking gas.

A handful of traders took advantage of the situation and stopped supplying customers with kerosene and gas cylinders a day before 15 January, 2018 only to sell the products at the new increased rate from 15 January 2018.

The Council’s National Consumer Helpline received complaints/concerns from frustrated consumers against traders and service providers for not releasing fuel and/or selling gas cylinders days before the price change came into effect. There were also instances where traders had started charging the increased price prior to 15 January 2018.

In one particular case, Jacob went to purchase a 12kg cooking gas from a store in Nausori on January 14, 2018. He was surprised when the trader informed him that the cost of the 12kg cylinder was $38.48. Jacob was well aware of the fact that the price of the 12kg cylinder was $33.55 and the new price was to come into effect from midnight 15 January 2018.

When he raised his concerns with the trader, the trader cunningly told him to purchase the gas from elsewhere if he did not wish to pay the new price. Jacob then agreed to pay the new price on the condition that the trader issue him with a receipt. The trader declined his request stating that he did not have any sales docket in place. According to the trader, all the cylinders were already paid for by one customer, which he had forgotten about. Hence, he could not sell it to Jacob.

Frustrated with the turn of events, Jacob sought clarification from the Council on the matter.

The Council advised Jacob that the trader was wrong in demanding the payment of new price before it came into effect. The matter was referred to the enforcement body (Fijian Competition and Consumer Commission) for their further action.

This is not the first time that the Council has come across such matters. Previously, consumers have been made subject to hoarding when there is predicted increase in the price of items such as cigarettes and alcohol. Consumers have been told by shop owners that they have run out of the particular product(s), however, once the price increase comes into effect, the stocks seem to automatically come out.

Traders need to adhere to the fair market practices and follow the timeline in place to increase prices. Further, it is unethical and illegal to hoard items and wait for the price increase to come into effect.

Pursuant to Section 87 (G) (1) (ii) of the Fijian Competition and Consumer Commission Act 2010 “a person who is in possession of goods for mercantile purposes must not destroy or hoard the goods or refuse to sell the goods or make them available for sale if the destruction, hoarding or refusal is done in order to charge a price higher than the price it is normally sold at a time convenient to the person or immediately before the higher price is fixed…..”

Any person who is in breach of the provision, shall be guilty of an offence.

Traders must adhere to the national laws and refrain from engaging in illegal market practices. Consumers, on the other hand, need to be vigilant when they are out shopping.

They are encouraged to inform the Council by contacting its toll free National Consumer Helpline number 155 to lodge their complaints against traders who are involved in such unscrupulous acts.