Food Getting Pricier At Ramadan Bazaars

By Norshazlina Nor'azman

KUALA LUMPUR, July 1 (Bernama) -- As Muslims and non-Muslims alike flock to Ramadan bazaars in search of buka puasa delicacies, stall operators can look forward to reaping a handsome profit.

Unfortunately, many traders are beginning to regard these bazaars as a veritable goldmine, often marking up the prices of their foodstuffs by ridiculously high amounts in an effort to rake in excessive profits.

Bazaar-goers have also been griping about the shrinking sizes of the various kuih-muih and other popular foodstuffs, despite the higher prices. There have also been complaints of spoilt food being sold at some stalls.

As expected, the traders are blaming the stiffer prices on the Goods and Services Tax (GST) and higher petrol and diesel prices.

But RM1 for a tiny piece of kuih? Now, isn't that considered a little too expensive?

SIZE SHRINKING BUT PRICE SOARING

A survey of Ramadan bazaars at Wangsa Melawati, Wangsa Maju, Keramat AU2, Bandar Seri Permaisuri and Taman Len Seng, all in Kuala Lumpur, showed that the public's complaints were not entirely baseless as the writer herself was shocked at the prices of some the foodstuffs.

Social media users have also taken to venting their frustration through Twitter and Facebook, claiming that some traders were taking advantage of consumers by raising prices indiscriminately, just to make a quick profit.

Twitter user, @amirul_idhamAB, pointed out to a trader at the Ramadan bazaar in Batu Pahat, Johore, whose murtabak was priced at RM4 per small piece.

"There has been a slight increase in the prices of (some) food but not all... murtabak at RM4 in Batu Pahat is, indeed, considered expensive," he said.

Another Twitter user, @thezulfo, highlighted a trader at the Ramadan bazaar in Wangsa Melawati, who charged steep prices. For instance, his popiah basah was priced at RM1 apiece, roti john at RM5, murtabak RM4 and tau fu fah RM2.

"Prices have gone up at other bazaars too. The (price of) nasi ambeng at Tasik Bandar Permaisuri Cheras has increased by 50 sen... previously we could get four pieces of fried cempedak for RM2, now we can only get three pieces... and some of them have reduced the sizes of their food portions.

"Price hikes are normal because of yearly inflation. If it's a 20-sen hike, it's okay but a 50-sen or RM1-increase due to GST is too much," he said in a series of tweets.

Puteri Nurul Nabila, who uses the tweet handle @pnnhellokitty, said: "It's alright if price is high but (food is) tasty.

Here, they sell expensive foodstuff which is not at all delicious."

@TheDidiey posted a trader's response when asked why his prices had gone up: "What else can we do, we traders too have to pay GST."

@NamaSayaLoqman said he has elected to prepare his own buka puasa spread as it was more economical compared with buying food at the local Ramadan bazaar.

ERRANT TRADERS CAN BE PENALISED

Meanwhile, the Ministry of Domestic Trade, Cooperatives and Consumerism's Deputy Director of Enforcement Datuk Iskandar Halim Sulaiman said stern action would be taken against traders who hiked up their prices solely for financial gain.

Although buka puasa delicacies were not considered controlled items, errant traders could still be taken to task under the Price Control and Anti-Profiteering Act 2011 if their business practices smacked of profiteering elements.

"If our checks reveal that the price hikes are unavoidable as a result of higher raw material costs or transport costs, and that their profit margins are within reasonable limits, then we will have to take these things into consideration.

"But if we find the quantum of price hike unreasonable and the traders' profit margin higher than usual, then it's regarded as profiteering and action can be taken," he said, when contacted by Bernama.

He said legal action could also be taken against traders who failed to display the prices of their products.

SURPRISE CHECKS

Iskandar said since June 23, enforcement officers have been conducting surprise checks on various Ramadan bazaars all over the country and monitoring the prices of the foodstuffs on sale, to ensure that the traders were abiding by the relevant laws.

He said over a period of six days since then, a total of 32,000 food premises at Ramadan bazaars were inspected and 512 warnings have been issued to traders for various offences.

"Four stall operators were issued immediate compounds as they failed to display the prices of the foodstuffs they sold," he said.

He added that to date, only nine complaints regarding grossly overpriced food items have been received from the public.

"If consumers come across premises charging unreasonably high prices, they should lodge a report and indicate the quantum of the price hike so that we can investigate and carry out a surprise check (on the premises concerned)," he said.

WIELDING CONSUMER POWER

Muslim Consumers Association of Malaysia Chief Activist Datuk Nadzim Johan said his association has also been receiving numerous complaints from the public over the excessive prices of food and drinks sold at Ramadan bazaars. There were even reports that fresh sugarcane juice was being sold at RM5 a packet, from RM2.50 in previous years.

He urged consumers to exert their power by voicing out their disapproval whenever they came across ridiculously-priced foodstuffs or drinks. If the traders concerned insisted on maintaining their prices, then the onus was on the consumers to boycott them or report them to the relevant authorities.

"Operators of small stalls cannot impose GST on their customers, but some of them are forced to raise the prices of their food items because they have to pay GST on some of the raw materials used.

"If the price increase is reasonable, we can accept it, but then there are some traders who are trying to throttle consumers by charging absurd prices. It's important for consumers to remember that if they don't purchase, there will be no sales," he said.

Nadzim also reminded consumers to buy moderate amounts of buka puasa fare and curtail impulse buying, as it would help to reduce wastage of food and even money.

"Sometimes we have the tendency to buy a lot... whatever we see we buy, but in the end we're not able to consume all the food. Just limit the amount of food and drinks that you want to buy to a few varieties," he said.

-- BERNAMA