Law enforcement taskforces established in Addis Ababa and regional states have stepped up in taking legal measures against businesses, who are allegedly engaged in raising prices as well as hording consumer goods and medical product supplies, following the first reported coronavirus cases.
According to various government sources, so far, some 1,607 business entities and drug stores have been shut-down in Addis Ababa, Amhara, Oromia and Southern regional states.
The latest move comes amid public outrage against business actors, for seeking extra profit while the nation starts to grapple with a possible Novel Coronavirus Disease (COVID-19) epidemic.
On Wednesday, Addis Ababa Trade Bureau head, Abdulftah Yusuf, who is also the head of the taskforce established by Takele Uma (Eng.), Deputy Mayor Addis Ababa, told local media that until Wednesday alone, some 439 shops and drug stores in Addis Ababa have been shut down.
He said the measures were taken after businesses were involved in price hikes and creating an artificial shortage of consumer items and medical supplies. Furthermore, he said some businesses rushed to raise the prices after the virus was announced, instead of showing solidarity at a time of crisis.
Apart from monitoring business activities, the task force is making an effort to insure the presence of products in the market while encouraging producers, manufacturers and suppliers, to supply sufficient products to the market.
The Addis Ababa Police Commission has announced that it has seized 25 business traders in Yeka Sub-city alone, where they were found to have been involved in manipulating market activities.
In cooperation with the Trade and Industry Office of the sub city, police, as a result have already shutdown 18 retailors for Grind mills and one drug store, the commission said in a statement issued on Thursday.
In a similar measure taken in regional states, over 216 businesses have so far been shut down in the Southern Regional State until Thursday.
Trade Bureau of SNNPR reveled on Thursday that it has taken legal measures against some 149 shops, 49 grain distributers and grinding mills, 7 pharmacies, 6 restaurants and pubs as well as six oil stations in Hawassa and other towns.
A day earlier, Trade and Market Development Bureau of the Amhara regional State, on its part announced it has taken legal measures against 925 traders and business entities as well as two drug stores.
The bureau said that while countries across the world have been exerting their full cooperation to protect their respective citizens from the pandemic; there are some business people in Bahr Dar, and other towns engaged in increasing prices to meet their selfish need of excess profit.
“This is morally and legally unacceptable to have people with this kind of motives, taking advantage of this serious problem to amass wealth despite the prevailing danger to their own people and fellow community,” Director of Grain Products Marketing Directorate of the Amhara Trade and Business Development Bureau, Lingerew Abesha said.
Regional officials have also reported a 100 percent margin in their respective towns.
The existing criminal law prohibits price gauging, charging excessive prices and hording for necessary consumer items and important product supplies including medicines and medical tools in times of crisis, catastrophes, outbreak of disease or after a national state of emergency is declared.
According to the penal code, anyone who is found violating this provision will receive heavy penalties ranging from 15 to 20 years imprisonment and of up to 100,000 birr fine.