Why expect different outcomes with the same flawed policy?

With prices of essential goods long having spiralled out of the reach of ordinary people, we are frustrated that the government's approach to stabilise the market continues to be short-sighted and ineffective. On September 15, the government fixed the prices of eggs, onions and potatoes as part of a bid to contain the runaway food inflation (which hit a 12-year high in August). But according to our report, none of these items are being sold at the set prices. This comes as no surprise to us – and it shouldn't to the authorities either – as the government's past attempts at price control have repeatedly fallen short of expectations, providing financial windfalls to market syndicates instead.

For instance, every year, the government fixes rawhide prices ahead of Eid-ul-Azha, and every year without exception, traders violate that cap, citing various reasons. In the agriculture sector, too, farmers inevitably end up paying more than government-set fertilizer prices. Meanwhile, LPG cylinders, fixed at Tk 1,284, are currently selling at Tk 1,600. Whether it's the transportation fares, dollar rates, or prices of soybean oil, sugar or IV saline, the story is much the same, with the only ones to have benefitted in the process being the traders.

Why must the government insist on this charade year after year instead of addressing the root causes of escalating prices? Who is it really making a mockery of – its own institutions, whose failure to monitor the market is markedly clear, or the people, whose suffering has increased manifold over the past one and a half years?

Echoing the advice of economists, we have written countless times over the past year(s) advocating a different approach – to take stern action against the syndicates that are monopolising the market and manipulating prices. Yet, for reasons best known to the authorities, they have refused to monitor and regulate the major players who dominate supply chains and engage in monopolistic practices. Over and over, big players, with friends in powerful positions, have won over ordinary people, who have no one to look out for them.

Ahead of the upcoming general elections, the government must take a hard look at its present policies and consistent failure to bring down food prices, and ease people's sufferings. If it insists on setting prices, then it must do the bare minimum of ensuring compliance. But beyond, it is painfully obvious that it needs to ensure a transparent and competitive marketplace to pave the way for efficient market performance.


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