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Jakarta Post

Minister threatens to revoke licenses of 'price gouging' mask manufacturers

  • Made Anthony Iswara

    The Jakarta Post

Jakarta   /   Fri, March 6, 2020   /   03:27 pm
Minister threatens to revoke licenses of 'price gouging' mask manufacturers A handwritten sign, declaring that masks, hand sanitizers and thermometers are all sold out, is displayed on March 4 at a medical supplies kiosk at Pramuka market, Central Jakarta. (JP/Dhoni Setiawan)

The government has bared its fangs at manufacturers, threatening to revoke the licenses of any that attempt to restrict distribution with an intent to cause artificial scarcity and hike the price of face masks. It is taking the measure in a bid to control prices as the supply of face masks in the country plummets amid unusually high demand during the global coronavirus outbreak.

Trade Minister Agus Suparmanto said on Thursday that the government would follow a three-step process in taking action against any manufacturers that attempt any unfair trade practices: a warning, followed by a sanction, and finally license revocation.

"We will have to revoke their business licenses [...] if they violate the trade and health laws," Agus said, adding that while a portion of masks would be confiscated from the errant manufacturer's stock as evidence, the rest would be distributed to fulfill domestic demand.

The minister's threat targets mask manufacturers that withhold the goods from distribution or produce low-quality masks for selling at marked-up prices to profiteer from the global emergency.

Countries around the world are seeing an inordinately high demand for face masks that has led to skyrocketing prices following fears of a global pandemic of COVID-19.

Read also: Kimia Farma puts in place mask and hand sanitizer rationing to ensure availability

Panic buying over the past two days has caused a surge in the price of face masks, both online and offline. A box of masks is now selling for Rp 300,000 (US$21) on average – a whopping 15-fold increase (1,500 percent) from the usual Rp 20,000 per box.

"We urge [mask producers] to increase production and fulfill domestic needs first,” Agus said. “We are calling on producers not to export [masks].”

Meanwhile, National Police Criminal Investigation Department (Bareskrim) chief Insp. Gen. Listryo Sigit Prabowo said on Thursday that the department had made 30 arrests in 17 separate cases for allegedly hoarding masks and hand sanitizers.

Bareskrim had also confiscated 822 boxes containing 61,550 masks and 138 boxes of hand sanitizers.

The chief said that the Bareskrim team uncovered three of the alleged hoarding cases through Polda Metro Jaya (Jakarta metropolitan police), as well as two cases each in West Java and South Sulawesi and one case each in Central Java and the Riau Islands to total nine cases. They had also uncovered four other cases of alleged disinformation or hoaxes.

"We will continue to monitor [the situation] alongside the Trade Ministry to ensure the availability of masks and basic needs," Listyo said, adding that similar unethical business practices could violate the 2014 law on trade.

Article 107 of the law prohibits any practice that intentionally withholds a certain volume of critical or basic goods over a certain period of time during times of scarcity.

Read also: Police seize 350 boxes of face masks during raid on suspected hoarder in West Jakarta

At a press conference on Monday, National Consumer Protection Agency (BPKN) chairman Ardiansyah Parman pointed out that violators of the law could face up to five years in prison or be fined a maximum Rp 50 billion (US$ 3.53 million).

"Don't try to [exploit] opportunities when the public is experiencing difficulty," he said. "Empathize with them instead."