BEIRUT: The Economy Ministry’s General Director Alia Abbas made an impromptu public appearance Thursday morning after several dozen protesters gathered outside the ministry to condemn its lack of action on tackling rising prices.
“We’re protesting [the state’s] failure to protect the interests of consumers by effectively overseeing the prices set by large traders and shops,” protester Mohammad Hatoum told The Daily Star. “Their oversight is very limited and isn’t spread across the whole of Lebanon.”
Hatoum added that the problem relates to a “shortfall in the number of inspectors to protect consumer interests” and that the ministry must “adapt its inspection procedures to reveal the shops that are taking advantage of the crisis by upping their prices.”
“The prices for the same product are inconsistent between the same supermarkets and pharmacies,” another protester told The Daily Star. “The people’s hunger has become exceptional ... Inspections must take place across the country – not just in Beirut and Mount Lebanon.”
Abbas emphasized that the Economy Ministry has staff “out on the ground everyday inspecting [the prices of] small and large shops, as well as distributors ... We have started sending shops to the judiciary to close them down because of their inflated prices.”
She added that citizens should cooperate with the Economy Ministry to address the issue and “help each other.”
Economy Minister Raoul Nehme later Thursday announced in a statement carried by the state-run National News Agency that he had sent 61 files “involving raised prices and non-compliance with official pricing” to the judiciary.
Prices have rocketed in recent months along with the devaluation of the Lebanese pound. A dollar shortage caused by years of dwindling capital inflows has caused the black market exchange rate for the Lebanese pound to rise well above the official rate of L.L.1,507.5 to the dollar. Most consumer goods in Lebanon are imported and must be bought by businesses in hard currency. Many shops have raised their prices to adjust for the higher exchange rates, effectively passing the expense on to consumers.