By NEIL HARTNELL
Tribune Business Editor
The Chamber of Commerce yesterday said it has yet to receive a single complaint about price gouging by businesses prior to Hurricane Irma.
Edison Sumner, its chief executive, told Tribune Business that in the absence of any complaints the private sector organisation could only conclude that there was “minimal, if any, price gouging” occurring pre-Irma.
The Chamber’s position contrasts with that of the Price Control Commission, whose chair, Syndia Dorsett, said it had received numerous complaints from Bahamian consumers about the prices of essential food-stuffs, building materials and other hurricane supplies.
The Commission is this week checking supermarket prices to see if they have changed from pre-Irma levels, although it has not identified any ‘price gouging’ culprits by name.
Mr Sumner yesterday said the Chamber planned to “reach out” to the Consumer Protection Commission and its chairman, Philip Beneby, to see if it had received specific ‘price gouging’ complaints.
“We haven’t received any complaints through the Chamber, even though we talked publicly about it,” he told Tribune Business. “We’ve not received any complaints, formally or otherwise.
“I’ve not received any calls, and the Chamber has not received any calls on price gouging. We know they [the Commissions] were monitoring it, but as far as we’re concerned - and based on the information provided to the Chamber - we had minimal, if any price gouging.
“If there was, no one made any reports to the Chamber. I’m not saying it didn’t happen, but it wasn’t reported to us. I do intend to reach out to Philip Beneby, chair of the Consumer Protection Commission, and they can perhaps enlighten us further about reported price gouging and let us know who those culprits are.”
The Minnis administration warned merchants that any attempt to exploit consumer demand pre-Irma via price hikes, or the ‘hoarding’ of products and supplies, would be a criminal offence.
Mr Sumner, meanwhile, said the Chamber remained very concerned about Irma’s impact on Ragged Island, Inagua, Acklins, Bimini and Grand Bahama, even though most of the Bahamas had been spared the storm’s wrath.
“Our concern is the impact on the business community, and trade and commerce, in those areas and how it’s going to impact the economy in those islands,” he explained.
“Exuma suffered minimal damage, and we expect it to be back up and running in the next day or two. I’m advised that trade will be fully restored, but I’m not so sure about Bimini.
“We know there were tornados that touched down in Freeport and Bimini. There was significant structural damage to homes and businesses, and even flooding through parts of Bimini.”
Mr Sumner said the Chamber had been advised that Bimini’s airport had been “cleaned up”, and was now waiting for permission to re-open, which is expected to happen by today.
“Our other concern was the issue of trade, and the movement of cargo in and out of the country,” the Chamber chief executive added in reference to Irma’s potential impact on south Florida’s ports.
“We’re pretty satisfied there will not be any major disruption to trade and the movement of the shipping lines, and expect the freight companies will be able to move in and out of the country in the next day or two. That was a major concern of ours.”