The former Press Secretary to the President and a New Patriotic Party presidential aspirant, Kwabena Agyei Agyepong, has made a passionate appeal for the creation of a department of fair trade under the Ministry of Trade to ensure that companies operating in the country do not cheat their customers by charging exorbitant prices.
Mr. Agyepong's demand comes in the wake of his crusade against the duopoly of Ghana Cement (GHACEM) and Diamond Cement, as well as the prohibitive prices their products sell at which forced Trade Minister Allan Kyeremanten to threaten to fix control prices for the commodity.
According to Mr. Agyepong, Ghana is a country that has the highest charges for mobile phone calls; her airline industry also has the highest air fares while her hotel room rates are among the most expensive in the world.
“As for GHACEM, it is probably the worst when it comes to pricing of products”, charged Agyepong.
Such a regulatory body as the fair trade department, according to the presidential aspirant, would ensure that consumers were given a fair deal at all times.
"The creation of an office or department of fair trade under the Ministry of Trade would ensure that, while the government believes in having free market economy, companies do not take the consumer for granted and reap huge profits from him or her."
He said it was about time such a department was put in place to check some of those things, if the country wanted to improve the tourism industry.
Kwabena Agyepong, who has been crusading against recent hikes in cement prices, said GHACEM is structured in such a way as to favour the company and, although he believes in a liberal economic environment, there is the need to ensure that the customer is not taken for a ride.
"I haven't seen any country in the world where cement is sold at US$4 as a retail price, but now we are buying it at $12; this is completely irresponsible and I have made it clear that there is something wrong with the way they build up their prices at GHACEM."
He noted that cement is a strategic commodity that sells at various prices at the moment in Ghana unlike fuel which people in all parts of the country could buy at the same ex-pump price.
“I do not think that GHACEM pays its workers higher than the cement companies in Russia and the USA and conditions pertaining to the cost of production cannot be higher than those in Europe or America. It doesn't matter the kind of freight they are talking about.”
He said he was aware of companies that are prepared to land al¬ready finished cement products for close to three dollars per 50 kilos in the country.
Asked if he could quote a price at which a bag of cement should be sold in the country, he did not give a specific figure. He, however, underscored that the current price is too much and, because the commodity is a strategic one in Ghana's development, entrepreneurs should be encouraged to bring in finished products which are much cheaper.
He said, unlike the Tema Oil Refinery which uses a kind of import parity to ensure oil companies do not sell above the control price, cement price fixing is dictated by the whims of businessmen and women at the moment.
He said a policy similar to what obtains in the oil industry should be instituted and GHACEM made to comply with it so that, if the local producer is not able to compete with import parities, then it exposes itself as inefficient.
He called for a deliberate attempt by Ghana as a country to encourage businesses to get into cement production to break the duopoly of GHACEM and DIAMOND Cement.