Market monitoring is a farceIn the long run, the government should focus on ensuring adequate supply and fair market practices.
Just before the Tihar festivities, the government announced that market monitoring would be carried out to ensure that festival shoppers are not overcharged, as if such tasks are necessary only during celebration time. Such monitoring that is occasion-centric, one-off and primarily meant to be a publicity stunt is not the way to ensure fair market practices. This is because monitoring the market nationwide with thousands of goods and services traded in hundreds of locations is a highly daunting and an almost impossible task even for a very efficient government.
The government, pressure groups and the public continue to advocate conducting market monitoring, hoping that it will protect consumer interests. Still, lack of oversight is not the real reason behind distortive market practices. The inefficiency of the Nepali market is mostly attributable to information asymmetry and supply chain disruption. For instance, the supply of goats is never sufficient during festival time, and the price of mutton very often overshoots rational expectations. Traders are also known to create artificial scarcities for commodities in high demand. In addition to hoarding by sellers, rush buying and even bidding up the prices by consumers during festive seasons makes this shortage a recurring phenomenon year after year.
This can be better corrected by abundant supply and increased market competition than a 'pick and choose' modus operandi in market monitoring. Consumer rights groups are generally indifferent and perennially inactive as they are mostly uninformed and often in a collision course with the government. There is yet another reason for market monitoring being tardy and diluted. People are fearful that disrupting the supply chain will result in bad deals. Fruit markets that experience a 100 percent jump in prices during the festive season are a case in point as they have never seen a single inspection.
It is not that Nepal does not have laws to regulate the market. Of several such laws, at least three have a direct bearing on market monitoring and management. The Competition Promotion and Market Protection Act clearly states that forming cartels and manipulating prices is illegal. Likewise, the Consumer Protection Act has provisions related to the labelling of products and brands. According to this law, goods that do not match the quality and content stated on the label cannot be sold. But a majority of uninformed and uneducated consumers continue to remain mute witnesses while goods are being sold without proper labels.
The Black Market and Other Social Offence and Penalty Act embodies statutory provisions that dealers and sellers need to follow in order to maintain the health, convenience and economic interest of the public at large. The newly enacted Consumer Protection Act empowers market inspectors to impose fines and penalties on the spot, if any producer, transporter, importer, seller or service provider is found to be violating the rules and flouting the statutory norms. Despite the existence of such legislation, implementation of the legal provisions is woefully lax. Hence, the common consumer is not able to see a real impact on the ground for want of effective enforcement.
The absence of proper and adequate infrastructure is a severe challenge and impediment to effective surveillance and enforcement of the laws. Only establishing adequate and well-equipped testing laboratories in all major markets dedicated to differentiated products, for example, from food and fabrics to construction materials, can ascertain the extent of adulteration, aberration and distortion, and help the law to frame punitive cases. Access to scientific research support at a decentralised level is more pertinent as the country has adopted a federal structure that requires local governments to manage the markets in their respective jurisdictions. Governmental monitoring efforts and punitive actions are inadequate, considering the extent of the national market and inherent magnitude of possible irregularities. This is precisely why the government's marketing monitoring orchestration is nothing more than a farce.
Things to do
Going by the realities of an import-dependent economy, ensuring valid pricing itself is a challenging task as consumers, in most cases, are not even aware of the actual prices at which goods are bought and sold. Ways and means have to be found to devise some mechanism or develop some system to determine the quantity, quality and prices of all officially imported goods and services. It is possible, using bar codes, to determine the price of goods. However, we are always confused once we notice the difference between the price paid at the customs and the price the final customer actually pays.
To remove the anomalies in consumer markets, adequate attention has to be paid to various aspects such as demand forecast, adequate and available supply of merchandise to consumers, truthful labelling, price tracking at production or import points to find out the extent of value addition and its fairness and consumer awareness. These efforts need to be supplemented by the government's efforts to protect consumer rights. In the long run, the government and the market should focus on ensuring adequate supply and fair market practices. Relying on market monitoring alone may not be sufficient.
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