Retail stores and supermarkets here are ripping off Barbadians by setting unreasonably high markups using formulas that are unclear to the authorities, Minister of Health John Boyce is suggesting.
Speaking in Parliament Tuesday on a motion moved by the Opposition Barbados Labour Party (BLP) on the turbulence surrounding the National Social Responsibility Levy (NSRL), Boyce demanded that small and large retail stores and supermarkets must show how they determine their markups “because they are now making lots of money on the backs of Barbadians”.
The minister contended that certain business establishments were able to provide goods and services similar to those being offered by the traditional retailers at “significantly lower rates than are being offered in some traditional sectors”, leaving people to wonder about the difference in prices.
“[This] demonstrates the fact that there are certain sectors in this community of Barbados who are making money on the backs of Barbadians and there is no law requiring them to demonstrate to the Ministry of Trade, or any other ministry . . . how their markups are constructed,” he said.
It was for this reason, Boyce stated, that the time had come for “us to make it compulsory for certain sectors to demonstrate how they arrive at their prices.
“It is not a popular view but it is one which helps to guarantee the level of prices that we have to pay in our retail sector.”
Stating that some members of society would benefit from price control, the Government legislator assured Barbadians that the concept was not altogether foreign since “we do it in the drug service.
“Prices are set under a tendering process and once those prices are set, those are the prices the Drug Service pays for the pharmaceuticals that we provide free of charge to Barbadians,” he explained.
While acknowledging that those involved in business ought to make a profit, the minister complained that it was “the kind of prices that we are required to pay in our retail sector and in our supermarkets, in our regular shops” that caused concern.
“Sometimes we are challenged as a Government to provide evidence to the people of Barbados as to how the markups which are put in place in the retail sector are constructed,” Boyce said.
His comments came a day after the business community joined the top trade unions here in leading a 20,000 strong demonstration against the Freundel Stuart administration’s austerity measures, particularly the NSRL – charged on the customs value of imported and locally manufactured goods – which climbed from two per cent to ten per cent, effective July 1.
Prominent businessman Ralph Bizzy Williams has charged that the increase was equivalent to raising the 17.5 per cent Value Added Tax to 27 per cent.