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Can municipal councils stop price gouging during COVID-19 emergency?

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Posted: Monday, March 16, 2020. 2:42 pm CST.

By Aaron Humes: The Mayors’ Association has spoken out about the issue of price gouging during the COVID-19 (novel coronavirus) emergency, with hand sanitizers and other cleanliness-related items being placed on the price control list by order of the Government and Bureau of Standards.

But can the municipalities and governing councils enforce this among offenders by threats to, for example, not renew trade license or offer some sort of penalty? Belize City Mayor Bernard Wagner says it’s not that simple.

According to the Mayor, the Trade License Board is independent of the Council by regulation and as Mayor, he believes it is not under his mandate.

Nonetheless, the Bureau has little ability to directly enforce, and so the Mayor “encourage[s] the business owners that listen, this is a crisis. We can’t be saying that we care for our residents – and every day you make thousands and millions of dollars off these residents – to take this time to engage in an activity as low as that…I can’t even describe it. I would really want that our business owners take that responsibility and leave pricing as is.”

Those with complaints, says Councillor Oscar Arnold, can call the Council, who will keep a list of offenders and forward them to the Bureau and Trade Licensing Board for consideration, but the law does not give teeth to the municipal councils at this time, but those in Orange Walk and Punta Gorda have threatened direct action.

The City Council does agree with the position of the Association but Arnold warned against starting “a panic” or “price wars:” “We will do what it takes and what is necessary.”

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