Commodity prices vary “significantly” between retailers, reports Economic Development Ministry

The Department of National Planning and the State Trading Organisation (STO) have conducted a price comparison exercise across Male’ in a bid to show that while some retailers are charging inflated prices for basic commodities, most prices have risen little.

Speaking yesterday evening from the President’s Office, Economic Development Minister Mahmood Razee said the statistics, which were compiled by the Department of National Planning in collaboration with his ministry, indicated that although certain prices had been found to have risen in the last few months, there was no pattern to link these costs solely to a controversial managed float of the local currency.

The opposition has maintained that demonstrations raging across Male’ this week were against the government’s decision to implement a managed float of the rufiya and are led by youth unhappy with rising commodity prices.  These claims were made despite the active involvement of dismissed opposition Deputy Leader Umar Naseer, and MPs Ilham Ahmed, Ahmed Mahlouf, Ali Waheed, and Ahmed Nihan.

However, Razee added that discussions were ongoing with the STO – a main buyer of goods to the country – to try and maintain import supplies of 27 key food items in attempts to try and keep prices stable as well as enacting a cabinet pledge to cut import duty on diesel fuel by 50 percent.

Speaking ahead of a fourth night of protests by young people, parliamentarians and political activists on the streets of Male’, Dhivehi Rayyithunge Party (DRP) MP Ahmed Mahlouf said that although he had not been made aware of the content of the statistics at the time, he believed that protestors would not believe or be satisfied by the government’s claims and reaction.

“At this time, I think it would be difficult to accept that this is a genuine or positive message. At this point I don’t think [this] one press conference will help people,” he said.

Mahlouf added that he believed comments made by President Nasheed earlier this week, where he allegedly denied knowledge of the street protests concerning increased living costs that have garnered news coverage all over the world, had been extremely offensive to people gathering on the streets .

“It would be better to have a statement from President Nasheed apologising for the stupid comments he has made,” he added. “These comments have only made protestors more angry.”

Government findings, which were compiled on April 2 by officers visiting ten different stores across Male’, were said to highlight prices found to vary, sometimes significantly, between the retailers.

Speaking at press conference last night alongside Finance Minister Ahmed Inaz and representatives from the Maldives Monetary Authority (MMA), Razee said that when talking about changes in prices, it was important to try and determine how extensive they were.

“Yes, there are changes in prices, however, we should also see that in terms of essential commodities, what are the different brands that are there [in stores] and the price variations between them?” he said.

Following price comparisons conducted on May 2 at 10 different stores in Male’, Razee took the example of the prices of five powdered milk products, where prices between the stores were said to vary between Rf150 and Rf345. In addition he also pointed to the price differences in diapers, which he claimed varied between Rf118 and Rf150 for the same product.

The figures presently supplied by the government to Minivan News did not appear to verify these price fluctuations.

Razee added that he was unable to speculate on how long some of these potential differences in prices may have been present in stores across the capital or when and for what purpose they may have been implemented.

“What we are saying it, if you look at the price fluctuations that were there in 2006, 2007 and 2008, and if you look at the price fluctuations of the last few years, you will see there is no clear cut format or reason to believe this is directly related to the float of the currency,” he said. “Yes, it would have a bearing, but what needs to [be understood] is that there may changes to the prices. However, these are varied.”

Razee claimed that the government was not using this explanation as an excuse to avoid acting on public price concerns and said that measures were being taken to try and offer stable prices for certain “essential products”.

“We are in consultation with the STO and we have identified together 27 elementary items, out of which six are currently imported directly. [STO] is going to import the other items [on this list] as well to try and maintain price stability and ensure the availability is there,” he said. “In addition to this, the cabinet today advised the president to remove 50 percent of the duty on diesel. So this will give some relief to power generation, electricity bills and transportation costs.”

Finance Minister Inaz added that the government had decided to release some of its statistics to try and highlight current prices being paid by goods in relation to the last few years.

“It is very easy in a small economy to play with and manipulate the confidence of the economy,” he said. “Confidence is the most important factor to build an economy and it can be easily twisted. We agree the prices have gone up, but we want to maintain these price levels at a competitive level compared to other international rises.”

Cost statistics

The government, in figures compiled by Department of National Planning, outlined a number of changes in the average prices paid for goods between March 2010 and March 2011.

These price changes include:

• One kilogram of loose rice – up 1.07 percent from last year

• One kilogram of ordinary flour – down 1.89 percent from last year

• One kilogram of frozen chicken – up by 8.73 percent from last year

• One medium sized coconut – up 69.71 percent over last year

• One hundred grams of garlic – up 22.34 percent last year

• One kilogram of potatoes – up 8.74 percent last year

• One kilogram of imported onions – down 12.64 percent from last year

• One kilogram of yellow coloured dhal – up 17.63 percent from last year

• One 500 millilitre bottle of Kinley mineral water – down 30.30 percent from last year

• One 185 gram can of Felivaru brand fish chunks in oil – up 22.24 percent from last year

• One unit of state-supplied electricity – unchanged from last year

• Thirteen kilogram of cooking gas – up 12.12 percent from last year

• One litre of petrol – up 32.65 percent over last year

• One packet of Fitti brand small baby diapers – up 4.35 percent from last year


“Prices of goods have been a lie”, says President Nasheed

Extract from a speech given by President Mohamed Nasheed at Sunday night’s Maldivian Democratic Party (MDP) rally, concerning the state of the economy.

Our nation remains a nation, as I often say, because our ancestors went fishing, collected cowries, climbed palm trees, constructed boats, built resorts and operated them. Our nation remains a nation not just because rulers ruled and judges judged. Our nation remains a nation because workers have laboured.

The rights of Maldivian workers and various benefits are not being spoken about in this country today for the first time. In the 1700s, Judge Hassan Thajudheen forbids Maldivians from working without remuneration. From that day onward, Maldivian workers from day to day have been noting their rights, and their responsibilities as well, to the present day.

In our country, if we want to bring the labour market to the right path, we have to look at or consider not just the worker. I always say, to do something, you have to do something else. After continually doing that, when what we envisioned has been reached, then what we want will have been sustainably achieved.

Prices of goods are not lowered with an army officer in front of the shop. To bring down prices, we have to build a good, strong economy. We have to change our economy into the shape of a strong economy of a middle-income country.

This was not the case yesterday. Most of the goods we sell in this country are imported. We pay for it in dollars. When we don’t know the value of the dollar – that is the goods in the market were bought with dollars and we don’t know its value – there is not a single way for us to know the value of the goods we have bought. Therefore, there’s no way we can know anything.

To build an economy on that basis and to consider it a sound economy is a mockery. It is not something I can do. I too know, [MDP MP] Alhan has said very clearly, we can keep building and building and building debt. The law very clearly gives me the discretion to print money. For the first three months after I assumed office, at the end of every month I was brought a piece of paper, on it was written that I had printed Rf200 million (US$16 million).

With every Rf 200 million, the value of the rufiyaa kept falling. When we took over the government, inflation was at 12 percent. [Prices] were rising at a rate of Rf12 each passing month. Today [inflation] is 0.65.

When prices soared to the highest, the price of a can of powdered milk rose by Rf 4 – two children will drink from one can of milk for a month. How much of an increase in rufiyaa per day has that become for us? I too know the prices of goods in the country. I do go into shops. I know that the price of a small coconut is Rf5 in Filledhoo, but Rf10 in Male’.

We do not lack information. Nor do we lack a course of action. And I am not unaware of what we’re doing and what we are about to do. Leaders of nations are anxious and cowardly when it comes to making changes to the country’s monetary and economic system. They remain hesitant about making changes to salaries, hesitant about making changes to taxation. They remain anxious and fearful of inflation.

However, in truth it is not us who have to suffer from that cowardice today, but our children tomorrow. The question before us today is who should we treat better? The woman we are married to now or our young children? I know it is a difficult question.

Everything we have done in our lives has been for our children. We build harbours for our children; we build homes and sewerage systems for our children. We give pensions as well, for our children.

Today prices of goods have gone up, too, for our children.

The straight value of the dollar to the rufiyaa is not a number I saw in a dream one day and took to heart. The price of a dollar set in 2001 was not based on a transaction between rufiyaa and US dollars. The price of a dollar has been set today based on market transactions. Today you are seeing straight the true price of the goods at market. It is not that prices have not gone up, you have found out the price! What was written before was a lie. It was not a price. It is a picture that rulers have showed you as a price. Our children and children’s children are being destroyed by the seduction of that picture.

Do we want the present or the future? This party was formed because we said ‘we want the future, today is done, the sun has set, what we can win is tomorrow.’ There is no way we can get today. We have to reach, too, for tomorrow.

Most workers in this country are fishermen. 44 percent of the workforce are fishermen. When the value of the dollar is low, its unfairness is felt most by fishermen. The fish they catch is sold out of the country. When the export price improves, the [purchasing] price improves for them. Because the value of dollars has gone up, the income of most workers in the country has gone up exponentially. It has gone up!

I have just come back from Thinadhoo. I went to Kolamafushi too. I know what’s happening in Ihavandhoo and Hoarafushi as well. Maldivian fishermen are today selling a kilo of raw fish for Rf16.50. That is not a price that they would have ever imagined before. A kilo of raw fish for Rf16.50. How much is a cupful of rice? How many cupfuls of rice can you get today for one handharu fish?

I would say the Maldives has not seen any more prosperous times than this.

The second [main source of employment] for workers in the country is in the tourism industry. The service charge in that business is paid in dollars, you know. On April 11, the income of workers in that sector has gone up 20 percent.

About 20 to 25 percent of the workforce in the Maldives is employed by the government. For them, it has become a little bit difficult. Like I said, a Rf4 [increase] from a can of powdered milk, for two children to drink for a month. Total monthly household expenses have gone up by Rf300 or Rf400 for a secretary, for a lawyer, for a labourer. To plug that gap, we must do what we have to do.

The government’s monetary and economic policy is now being implemented. We are now making the changes necessary to instil the characteristics of a middle-income country in our economy. An administrative framework for taxation has been established. A 3.5 percent GST is being levied on tourism services.

The government aim is to completely eliminate import duties beginning on January 1, 2012, for all children’s food, all foodstuff, pens, pencils and paper. We are working towards that end. It will be done on January 1, 2012.

In order to do it, the state needs an additional Rf1.3 billion. Today our budget forecast is Rf2.3 billion as duties. The government is giving up that duty, but while doing so, we have decided to ask the honourable members of the People’s Majlis to increase the tourism GST from 3.5 percent to 5 percent and introduce a 3.5 GST for other businesses.

If we wish to change our economy, we have to make these courageous changes. There is one additional tax. That is, the income tax. It will hurt the most there. We plan to take an income tax from those who earn above Rf30,000 a month. About Rf30 a month. When that amount is paid to the government as income tax, then the whole cycle of the economy will, God willing, become stable – this is where we see ‘The Other Maldives.’

That is where the value of the dollar will be brought down to the level we want and the price of goods and services will fall.

Our task is very clear to me. I know that, God willing, our efforts will bear fruit. This morning, among the changes to be made to the economy, I noted a special point. A lot of workers in the country are foreigners. Most of the time, businesses employ them because they work for cheaper rates. For work done in this country, [a person] should be able to live an ordinary life in this country, whether it is a foreigner or a Maldivian.

The government plans to determine what the minimum wage paid to a worker should be. Here or abroad, when that is paid to workers, we believe job opportunities will not be lacking for Maldivians.

We can bring our country to the right path. I know that there are many people who find what I have to say difficult to hear. But I say repeatedly, I am not someone who will squander our children’s future. We took over government to realise the hopes of the Maldivian people – to establish a system of good governance for the people.

We do not arrest people. We do not torture people. This government will not pillory, handcuff, torture or chain anyone. We talk to the people through verbal interactions, not through fear and intimidation. The Maldives is maturing into a full democracy. The biggest secret of our success is the many citizens of this country fighting for freedom and hoping for better days.

Before concluding, I would tell everyone here not to worry at all. Some nights, they might be squatting at the Chandanee Magu intersection. Other nights, leaning against a door somewhere. We must not be concerned and worried about it. What happened last night was very unfortunate. I didn’t know that protest was going on last night even when I slept.

What I have to say [to the demonstrators] is that our resolve will not be shaken. Neither this party nor I will be shaken. Our policies won’t budge either. God willing, in Alhan’s words, we are going to ‘The Other Maldives’ at maximum.