The government may resort to price controls to tame traders taking advantage of the ongoing coronavirus crisis to exploit consumers.
Agriculture Cabinet Secretary Peter Munya warned the government could consider invoking the Price Control Act to protect consumers from the rogue traders.
Mr Munya said a team is already moving around the country to assess the cost of various essential goods.
“We have not yet reached there, but these traders should know that we shall not hesitate in invoking the Price Control Act to safeguard the consumers,” said Mr Munya.
He said that he was aware of reports of traders hoarding some essential food commodities in order to create an artificial shortage and spark a jump in price.
“We will be closely monitoring the cost of food across the country and taking stern measures against traders who create artificial price inflation on food and agriculture inputs,” he said.
The Competition Authority of Kenya is also on the lookout for traders who are taking advantage of consumers, and last month forced retailer CleanShelf to refund buyers an excess charge on a hand sanitiser.
The Price Control Act allows the Treasury to set maximum prices for gazetted essential commodities. These include maize and maize flour, cooking oil, and sugar.
Economist Toni Watima said that the current situation in the country makes price control a viable option to shield vulnerable Kenyans from exploitation.
“The government needs to move fast because it is the best option that we have at the moment. The main issue would be how to enforce compliance by traders,” said Mr Watima, adding that the other option would be to offer incentives through tax reduction.
Former President Mwai Kibaki endorsed this law in 2011, allowing Kenya to return to price controls of any essential commodity, after the practice was abandoned in the 1990s in favour of economic liberalisation.
Mr Munya said food supply is sufficient at the moment and urged Kenyans to avoid panic buying.