The Consumer Association of Bangladesh's (CAB'S) call to create a new body to monitor demand, supply and prices could not have been better timed. The Financial Express in its last Friday issue focused on the absence of proper data, analysis and monitoring from the concerned agencies pertaining to manipulated market behaviour of certain essential items. The still ongoing onion saga, interspersed with a day of salt fickleness, continues to hog headlines, even after airlifting and shipment of the item from abroad. The CAB's suggestion for the creation of a new entity is backed by the urgent need for curbing rumour-mongering and the syndicated control of the market. If the item had been saffron or jaifal, there would be little brouhaha in the market, but price-spiral of such an essential item as onion, which could rank only after rice, wheat, and salt couldn't have remained uneventful. Yet, had there been a designated and equipped oversight body instead of multiplicity of authorities where 'everybody's job is nobody's job', it could make timely intervention leveraging against attempted market manipulations by errant traders. That culinary culture cannot be curtailed in months and years, let alone in days, is a foregone conclusion. A society stands on what it eats, and not on what it sheds from its gastronomies.
Be that as it may, the government owned Directorate of National Consumer Rights Protection (DNCRP), with branches in all sixty-four districts and some skeletal manpower, seems to have failed in the latest episode. So have the TCB and the food-related other bureaucratic paraphernalia. Indeed the CAB has rightly pointed out a glaring lack of preparedness as regards data collection, maintaining market intelligence and doing analysis on the behaviour of essential items in the market. Whether without the required data, anything would be achieved through only 'policing' is questionable. So that data and research should be the necessary ingredients for a consumer- and productivity-friendly marketing policy. Also another matter to seriously research on relates to the existence, behavioural pattern and identification of the syndicates. Whether they really are as powerful as is assumed or are merely extensions of a part of the wholesalers, or they receive traction from ill-motivated people will have to be gone into if we are to protect stability of the market, interest of the consumer and that of the producer. Highhandedness and trading blames cannot bring sanity to a marketplace. For a perfect market to operate, the first condition is a steady supply. As has been the case with onions, an otherwise reasonable situation has only been complicated through waking up late.
Not that the government has been sitting idle. The policy-makers have been too busy with the onion situation. However, different government agencies have discrepancies in their figures which have to be in the first place set right. The Bangladesh Bank and the Tariff Commission differ on many things. So does the Bureau of Statistics. Now customs intelligence has been pressed into action. What will they achieve without a balance between demand and supply in the market is open to question. Suppliers now working from Myanmar, Pakistan and Egypt could have been activated earlier, since everyone knew that our regular supplier India had a bad harvest this year. We have learnt a lesson -- the episode calls for always being on the toes with data, especially those relating to the essentials. For a turn-around, well-trained people with a high degree of market intelligence instilled in them and working in a unified oversight body are absolute imperatives.