Traders have raised the prices of soybean oil and sugar, and the products are suddenly back in the market after a weeklong supply crunch.
The government adjusts the prices of a number of essential products, but this time the commerce ministry has remained silent.
Refiners proposed to raise soybean oil prices by Tk 12 a litre and sugar by Tk 13 per kg in early November, a month after the government agreed to increase the prices. They wanted to raise the prices citing a lack of gas for production and higher dollar price for import.
As there was no official word from the ministry over their proposals, they started supplying the products at hiked prices last Thursday.
On Sunday, bottled soybean oil was being sold at Tk 192 per litre and packaged sugar at Tk 108 per kg at Karwan Bazar. Retailers had already raised the prices citing a lack of stock amid the supply crunch.
Grocer Sekandar Hossain said the refiners raised the prices, but lowered the profit margin for the retailers. “We’re making Tk 2 profit after selling 1 kg of sugar. The profit was Tk 4-5 earlier.”
Nurul Islam Molla, secretary to Bangladesh Vegetable Oil Refiners and Vanaspati Manufacturers, said last Thursday they increased soybean oil prices by Tk 12 per litre, but on Sunday, he said the proposal was still with the Tariff Commission, which was yet to make a decision.
Mustafa Haider, president of the association and managing director of TK Group, said they raised the price after discussing the matter with the government. “We proposed a Tk 15 per litre hike. The government agreed to raise the prices by Tk 12.”
He could not name the government official who communicated with them. “People in my company said the government agreed to raise the prices by Tk 12 a litre.”
Golam Rahman, secretary general of Sugar Refiners Association, and Biswajit Saha, a director of sugar refiner City Group, did not respond to requests for comments.
Repeated attempts to reach Commerce Minister Tipu Munshi and Secretary Tapan Kanti Ghosh also failed.
“Our high-ups can talk about it,” said Shamima Akter, joint controller of domestic trade in the ministry. Additional Secretary Nusrat Jabin Chowdhury said only the minister can speak about cooking oil and sugar.
AHM Shafiquzzaman, head of the Directorate of National Consumer Rights Protection, said the law does not allow the companies or their associations to fix oil and sugar prices.
“They submitted a proposal and the government is yet to make a decision. So the previously fixed prices are still effective.”
Kazi Abdul Hannan, editor of Bhokta Kantho, the mouthpiece of the Consumers Association of Bangladesh, said the Tariff Commission might have agreed to raise the prices, but the dollar crisis and price hike in the international market were wrongly presented as reasons behind the proposal.
“And the ordinary consumers do not have the ability to buy oil and sugar at these prices now.”
ABDUL MONEM REFINERY FINED
The DNCRP hit Abdul Monem Sugar Refinery Ltd, which markets its product with the brand name Igloo, with a fine of Tk 100,000 for hiking the price to Tk 108 a kg, up from the government-fixed Tk 95, before new prices were announced.
Mohammad Hasanuzzaman, an assistant director at the consumer rights agency, said they slapped the company with the fine after a hearing on Sunday.
During an inspection on Nov 16, the agency’s Director General Shafiquzzaman found Igloo sugar was being sold at Karwan Bazar at Tk 108. Later, officials of the company were asked to explain the move.
Hasanuzzaman said the firm admitted to raising the price.
He said they would take steps against other companies for increasing prices without the government’s consent if the high-ups order them to act.