PN MP urges government to fix prices for essential items as coronavirus crisis raises cost of living

Jason Azzopardi has urged the government to use the power it has at law to cap prices of essential items while the coronavirus crisis lasts

The prices of essential items have been increasing since the start of the coronavirus pandemic
The prices of essential items have been increasing since the start of the coronavirus pandemic

The coronavirus crisis has led to an increase in the price of several essential items as demand spikes and this is not limited to hand sanitizers.

People have been reporting higher prices for items like food, ordinary pain relief medicines and essential toiletries since the start of the crisis.

Now, Nationalist MP Jason Azzopardi is asking the government to intervene by capping prices for essential items at a time when incomes are also dropping.

PN MP Jason Azzopardi has called on government to use the power it already has at law to fix prices of essential items
PN MP Jason Azzopardi has called on government to use the power it already has at law to fix prices of essential items

Azzopardi told Parliament this evening that the government was empowered at law to control the prices of goods and services deemed to be essential to the life of the community.

“The Supplies and Services Act gives the trade minister the power to set prices. The government must find the will to use these powers in these extraordinary circumstances. The prices for certain essential items can be capped at law for a three-month period with the possibility of extending it further if the crisis persists,” Azzopardi later told MaltaToday.

He said the French government has implemented a similar measure on hand sanitisers in the face of exorbitant increases in the price of the product.

Azzopardi said constituents had raised their concern with him over prices that were doubling from one week to the next.

“Only today, a person showed the price of a box of paracetamol which doubled in price over the past couple of weeks. This is not on at a time of crisis like this,” he said.

Earlier in the day, Labour MEP Alex Agius Saliba also voiced his concern on the matter. He wrote to the European Commission asking it to allow national governments to control prices of essential items at a time like this.

However, Azzopardi insisted the government did not need any EU waiver because Maltese law already allowed it to impose price controls and the measure was already used in France.

The Supply and Services Act was enacted in 1947 and last amended in 2007.

It describes essential goods, supplies, services and work as those deemed to be “essential in the public interest or to be essential to the life of the community”.

It empowers the minister to regulate among other things the importation, exportation, distribution, sale, purchase, use or consumption of essential goods “in particular, for controlling the prices at which such articles may be sold”.

The law also empowers the minister to regulate any “undertaking engaged in essential work”, particularly by controlling the charges they levy.

The law describes ‘undertaking’ as any public or private utility, any industrial or commercial enterprise, any professional or educational enterprise, organisation, institution and service.

This means that the government has the power to regulate the charges of any company deemed to be offering an essential service, which ostensibly refers also to Enemalta.

There have been calls for energy bills to be reduced as families and companies feel the pinch of reduced economy activity as a result of the Covid-19 pandemic. Only today, the Opposition called for a 50% reduction in electricity tariffs.

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