Vegetable, fruit prices that rose during early days of COVID-19 under control

Azlan Othman

In the first weeks of the COVID-19 outbreak in Brunei Darussalam, the prices of certain vegetables and fruit soared, since such imported items were in short supply on the international market.

“But these days, following checks of the pricing at local stores, we are satisfied that vendors are not marking up prices and profiting from it,” said Minister at the Prime Minister’s Office and Minister of Finance and Economy II Dato Seri Setia Dr Awang Haji Mohd Amin Liew bin Abdullah yesterday.

The minister was responding to a question regarding the complaints received by the Department of Competition and Consumer Affairs (DCCA) of the Department of Economic Planning and Statistics (JPES), as a result of the outbreak.

“The import prices of face masks and sanitisers also went up, due to a shortage. Currently, these products are readily available and the prices have been reduced,” he said. “To ease price pressure of these products, operators are allowed to cross the border, because if border crossing is restricted, it will cause prices to go up.”

The minister said that the ‘Buy Local Produce Campaign’, encouraging local farmers to cultivate fruit and vegetables, helped to reduce the prices of these items.

“We have received a lot of support from local vendors on this initiative, judging by our visits to Tutong and Seria,” he said.

“It has been quite encouraging. Many new vendors have started to approach Brunei Halal Ghanim International, and we hope to see more farmers boost local supply through the cultivation of vegetables and fruits, thus reducing commodity prices.”

Last March, the DCCA received nearly 200 complaints related to issues affecting consumers and businesses, as a result of the COVID-19 outbreak.

Seventy per cent of the complaints were made formally through consumer hotline 123, while 90 per cent of the issues were about the price increase for sanitising products and some grocery items.

The DCCA team responded promptly to the complaints received by reminding businesses about their obligations and rights.

Asked on whether prices of fruits and vegetables would stabilise in the coming months, Dato Seri Setia Dr Awang Haji Mohd Amin Liew said, “The price stability of these products depends on many factors. If our farmers keep on cultivating, then the prices of local produce would be stabilised. As for imported products, it depends on the situation in neighbouring countries, or the countries from which these products are being imported. In some countries, there are logistic issues which are dampening their interstate supply. Such a situation will affect import prices.

“Border control is also another factor that can increase the prices of items. Therefore, we hope that transport operators will abide by the directives from the Ministry of Health and Standard Operating Procedures (SOPs), and continue to comply with these requirements,” he added.