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More consumer focus

Filipe Naigulevu
Saturday, June 17, 2017

THE Consumer Council of Fiji is hoping that Government will again consider the concerns of Fijian consumers in the 2017/2018 National Budget priorities.

While the budget is expected to be announced later this month, council chief executive officer Premila Kumar said they hoped the new budget would once again focus on high cost of living to bring relief to consumers.

"We have seen from the past budget announcement that the Government always delivered a balanced budget where consumer needs were considered among other priorities," she said in their budget submission sent yesterday.

"Bad business practices that rip off consumers are rife across sectors and jeopardise household finances.

"More needs to be done to intervene in markets to ensure that any reduction in duties, tax or VAT are passed on to consumers."

As part of their submissions, Mrs Kumar said they were requesting Government to expand the powers of the Real Estate Agents Licensing Board beyond its current function of licensing the real estate agents.

"The council has reason to believe that certain players in the industry manipulate prices of properties and even do not disclose the prices of properties put on sale," she said.

"In one of its study on real estate practices, the council noted that quite a considerable number of properties out in the market did not have a stated price.

"Real estate agents are either asking for price offers or calling for auctions. In other cases, properties are simply advertised with no disclosure of price or price range. How can consumers make an offer when they don't even know the price of the property sold in that suburb, to make a reasonable offer? It is also a concern that properties are put on auctions, but there is no disclosure on date and time for these auctions. There is lack of transparency in the manner the auctions are conducted."

Mrs Kumar said such practices were pushing house prices up, which contributed to making housing even more out of reach for ordinary Fijians.

"Furthermore, in attempts to prevent price exploitation, the price or price range of properties on sale needs to be made available to public," she said.

"If an auction is called for, than the property must be registered and monitored by the Real Estate Licensing Board (REALB)."

The council has also requested for policy change where REALB registered all properties listed by the agents and also recorded the actual price the property was sold in different suburbs or regions that could be made available online to the public.

Other submissions include:

* At the request of kidney patients, the council's suggestion is to increase the price of sugar and salt by five cents per kilogram to generate revenue that can go towards subsidising the cost of dialysis.

However, the major concern for the council is the exorbitant high costs of dialysis treatment.

For any kidney patient or their family, it is financially crippling to fork out such a large sum of money just to be in good health every week.

* The council in its attempt to promote healthy living requests the government to increase duty on "unhealthy" food options while placing certain "healthy" food options under price control.

* Placing healthier food options under price control will allow consumers to have access to healthier choices at an affordable price which can assist in combating NCDs.

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