New ministers promise to end price gouging after near double-digit inflation

Inflation falls slightly in December, but remains much above the target

Published : 14 Jan 2024, 08:28 PM
Updated : 14 Jan 2024, 08:28 PM

The new agriculture minister and the state minister for commerce have revealed their plans to put an end to price gouging after near double-digit inflation for two years.

The index fell slightly to 9.41 percent in December, closing 2023 with an average inflation of 9.48 percent, up from 9.42 percent in 2022, according to data published by the Bangladesh Bureau of Statistics.

Food inflation fell to 9.58 percent last month from 10.76 percent in November, but non-food inflation increased from 8.16 percent to 8.52 percent.

The government aims to keep the consumer price index within 6 percent in the 2023-24 fiscal year and the ruling Awami League emphasised efforts to keep prices down in its election manifesto.

After a landslide election victory amid the BNP’s boycott, Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina changed key figures in her cabinet.

She dropped some big names, including in finance, agriculture and commerce portfolios, and picked her top team to revive the economy battered by the shocks of Ukraine war and COVID-19 curbs.

Speaking to journalists on his first day in office on Sunday, Agriculture Minister Md Abdus Shahid said he plans to prioritise steps to boost production and control alleged syndicates of businesses behind price-gouging.

“Production is the main challenge in agriculture. How can we capture markets, control prices and keep the supply chain working if we can’t produce?”

“Crop production will be increased by using all means. Every inch of land will be cultivated,” the minister said.

He also said syndicates of businesses manipulate prices everywhere. “We must find a way to crush them, control them.”

State Minister for Commerce Ahasanul Islam Titu, a former president of Dhaka Stock Exchange, said his plans include the launch of a digital monitoring system, a commodities exchange, and a preferential agreement with India to ensure smooth supply and fair prices of daily necessities.

“We want a smart market management in a 'Smart Bangladesh' to cut the time of supply to the consumers from the producers or importers,” he said.

For the recent price rises, he partly blamed the devaluation of the taka against the dollar and a rise in shipping costs because of global conflicts.

“We will put maximum effort into ensuring that no product gets out of circulation. We will conduct drives to ensure that the products reach the consumers,” he said.

Speaking about the digital monitoring system, Titu said he would use his experiences from the share market to launch an index with base prices for every product.

Tags will be used to keep records of imported products so that the government can monitor how much goods have arrived and where these are being sold, he said. “We have a monitoring system, but it’s not digital.”

“We will take steps if we see attempts to create an artificial crisis through stockpiling.”