Price hike of essentials: Commerce minister under fire in JS
"You have to accept the truth. The syndicates raised edible oil prices and took away thousands of crores of taka. But the minister couldn't take any action."
Commerce Minister Tipu Munshi took heavy flak in the Jatiya Sangsad yesterday for his ministry's failure to arrest the price hike of daily essentials, which has worsened the plight of limited-income people.
Participating in a discussion on "Trade Organizations bill 2022", 10 lawmakers from opposition Jatiya Party, BNP and Gonoforum said that despite being an experienced businessperson, the commerce minister failed to control the syndicates that manipulate prices of these items.
JP lawmaker Pir Fazlur Rahman said, "You have to accept the truth. The syndicates raised edible oil prices and took away thousands of crores of taka. But the minister couldn't take any action.
"The minister is an experienced businessman, but why couldn't he rein in the syndicates?"
Another JP MP, Mujibul Haque Chunnu, said the common people are bearing the brunt of the soaring prices of essentials.
"The syndicates cannot raise prices without the cooperation of [the people in] government.
"The government is blaming the [Russia-Ukraine] war for the price hike. In that case, the prices of newly imported goods may go up. But why will the prices of the locally-produced goods and those imported before the war will go up?"
He demanded that the government do whatever necessary to bring down the prices of essentials.
"If needed, it [the government] should give subsidies."
In his reply, Tipu Munshi said MPs in their speech in the JS always emphasise that he is a businessman.
"I have been doing business for 40 years. But I have also been involved in politics for the last 56 years. Is it my fault that I became a businessman?" he asked.
The outcry from the opposition lawmakers came amid fresh hikes in prices of essentials in kitchen markets during the Ramadan.
Over the last couple of days, prices of green chilli, cucumber, brinjal and fruits went up by Tk 20-50 per kg while those of fish and meat shot up by Tk 50-100 a kg.
"I have been doing business for 40 years. But I have also been involved in politics for the last 56 years. Is it my fault that I became a businessman?"
The drop in prices of edible oil, onion and sugar could not bring any respite to people as other essentials became pricier, making it difficult for many families with limited income to make ends meet.
A large number of them already suffered badly during the pandemic -- many lost jobs and saw an erosion of their savings. Now, soaring prices of essentials and rise in transport fares and utility service charges have added to their woes.
OUTCRY IN JS
Fazlur asked why the commerce minister and his ministry couldn't control the syndicates that are raising prices of essentials almost all the time.
Whenever the minister tried to bring down the prices of essentials by reducing VAT, the move failed to bear fruit, he said.
"It was reported in newspapers today [yesterday] that he [the commerce minister] went to a kitchen market yesterday [Monday] and bought five kg onion for Tk 28 a kg.
"If the minister makes announcements before going to kitchen markets, people will get to buy essentials at lower prices from those markets," Fazlur said in a veiled dig at the minister.
JP lawmaker Shameem Haider Patwari said, "People are being forced to compromise on food quality and nutrition due to the price hike."
Mentioning that many neighbourhoods in the capital are suffering from a severe gas crisis, BNP MP Harunur Rashid said prices of gas, oil and almost all essentials have gone up and the government has "totally failed".
Questions have been raised as to whether businesspeople are accumulating huge wealth by becoming public representatives, he said.
"The government has to take visible steps instead of blaming BNP unreasonably for the price hike."
Rumeen Farhana, BNP MP from a seat reserved for women, said the country recently saw an uproar over the rise in edible oil prices.
"In 15 days, a syndicate looted Tk 1,000 crore. The government itself is the syndicate.There is no difference between the government and the syndicate."
Gonoforum MP Mokabbir Khan said the Russia-Ukraine war should not be used as a pretext for increasing commodity prices. The syndicates had increased the price and looted money from the people even before the war had begun, he added.
"When a businessman becomes the commerce minister, it is quite natural that the government would be business-friendly, not people-friendly."
About the price hike of edible oil, Tipu Munshi pointed out that he had never said its price went up because of the war.
"The price of edible oil is fixed every month. Now, its price is on the rise in the global market."
He told the House that the government does not control businesses, rather it assists the businesspeople.
Pointing to the opposition MPs' remarks regarding the government's failure to control the syndicates, the minister said those who are involved in the syndicates are not in politics, and they are not lawmakers.
"The government is trying… The prime minister is constantly monitoring the situation," he added.