Price control is not a long-term solution

Izah Azahari

There may be benefits to price control in times of crisis, but it cannot be imposed forever, said Minister at the Prime Minister’s Office and Minister of Finance and Economy II Yang Berhormat Dato Seri Setia Dr Awang Haji Mohd Amin Liew bin Abdullah, during the 17th Legislative Council (LegCo) session yesterday.

“The imposition will no longer give suppliers or producers the incentive for competition,” he said.

Giving an example, the minister explained, “If price control is imposed on the price of chicken at BND5, there is a possibility that all retail shops will take on that maximum price, which will cause inconvenience to consumers instead.

“We want these suppliers and retailers to be competitive and leave it to the market forces to allow these producers to compete. On their own accord, they will further increase their efficiency and productivity.

“That’s one way to use market forces so that the competition in prices will automatically decrease all the time.”

The minister was responding to a question raised by LegCo member Yang Berhormat Pehin Orang Kaya Pendikar Alam Dato Paduka Seri Haji Hasrin bin Dato Paduka Haji Sabtu, on the measures and efforts being taken by the Department of Economic Planning and Statistics (DEPS) to address the issue of increase in prices of food items.

He added, “The ministry is currently working with the Attorney General’s Chambers to further strengthen the legislation on a quicker and more effective way to impose price control in times of crisis, ensuring that the government’s power under the law is in line with public expectations.”

On price increases on food items such as chicken, beef and lamb, he said, “There are reasons beyond the government’s control due to COVID-19, as logistics is affected in the country because of the inability of officials from the Ministry of Religious Affairs’ (MoRA) Halal Food Control Division to travel to Australia to witness the slaughtering of the cows, goats and so on.

“Moreover, government efforts to import cattle and goats either by sea or plane to be brought into Brunei for slaughter has also resulted in high logistic costs, which has also caused the price increase. Meanwhile, the increase in chicken prices may be the result of more people buying chicken, due to the shortage of beef and lamb.

“Hopefully with the vaccines, there is a chance in the future for the officials from the Halal Food Control Division of the MoRA to travel to Australia to witness the slaughtering. We will then be able to import meat and observe prices as before.

“There are 11 categories of basic food items that are monitored under DEPS which have been published through the Pengguna Bijak application, where the public can get the information so they can make an informed purchase decision and get the best price value.”

Earlier, Yang Berhormat Dato Seri Setia Dr Awang Haji Mohd Amin Liew shared the budget allocation for the Ministry of Finance and Economy and the departments under it for the financial year 2021-2022 as a whole, amounting to BND929,354,122 to fund, firstly, staff salaries amounting to BND67,392,597, which is an increase of about BND1.44 million (2.2 per cent) from the financial year 2020-2021, while also taking into account the actual calculation of salaries and allowances for the positions that have been filled; the transfer of 24 posts from the Ministry of Energy; and the absorption of six posts from the Ministry of Transport and Infocommunications.

Also part of the budget allocation is the Recurring Expenditure amounting to BND844,971,409, which is an increase of approximately 21.1 per cent from last year at BND697,678,626, due to the increase in the Allocation of Miscellaneous Services by BND707.4 million (26.9 per cent) compared to the financial year 2020-2021 at BND557.2 million.

These Miscellaneous Services include provisions to finance the expenses of ministries and departments under it such as security and defence amounting to BND121.8 million; medical services amounting to BND30 million; addressing the epidemic of infectious diseases including the purchase of COVID-19 vaccines amounting to BND20 million; Expenditure to deal with natural disasters amounting to BND15 million; public safety totalling BND5.8 million; information technology project amounting to BND4 million; Temburong District development amounting to BND3.8 million; assistance programmes for Miftaahun Najaah Scheme students from low-income families amounting to BND1.5 million; and other expenses.