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...‘This is real chaos’

By Kim Boodram

AN announcement yesterday by Prime Minister Kamla Persad-Bissessar of a 20 per cent rebate for retailers in the sale of rice, flour and oil coming through National Flour Mills (NFM), with discounts to trickle down to customers, has caused total confusion for supermarket owners.

Adding to the chaos, customers immediately began to demand a 20 per cent discount on the items marked by the Prime Minister, who made the announcement at yesterday’s post-Cabinet briefing.

Head of the Supermarkets Association of Trinidad and Tobago, Vernon Persad, said the announcement came as a surprise to association members and questions are numerous as to how the rebate will work for supermarkets who bought Christmas stock before the gift period declared by Persad-Bissessar, December 16 to 24.

Persad-Bissessar said the price “rebate”  on these staples will apply on December 23 and 24. 

The rebate was arranged as a result of collaboration among the Minister of Trade, NFM  and retailers nationwide, she said.

The Supermarkets Association and retailers who spoke to the Express, however, claimed they were not consulted and the plan could result in losses for some.

“Today for tomorrow cannot work with this,” said  Persad.

“It’s been said in the flavour of the season but right now the mechanics of how that change will be transferred to customers is unclear.”

Persad said the normal procedure is that supermarkets would be notified beforehand and a rebate book and structure would be issued. 

Part of the concern of supermarkets now, he said, is that most establishments would have bought their stocks before the stipulated period.

“This is a serious conundrum,” Persad said.

“Normally, NFM would have taken the lead in determining the rebate process. Also, at a time like this when trading is at its peak, where do you get the people from to get the mechanics done?” he asked.

The planned rebate applies to  Ibis, Lotus, Good and Natural, Cuisine and Hibiscus flour in two kilogramme packages; Ibis, Lotus, Club Select and Hibiscus flour in ten kilogramme packages and all sizes of Lotus soya bean oil and rice.

Checks in some grocery stores in Port of Spain yesterday showed customers who were buying these products asking for their discounts, which the store said they had no choice but to give, in spite of being nervous that they may suffer losses.

“We have not been told, by the Government or NFM, what the suggested retail price is based on the rebate,” said a manager at FHS United Supermarket on Independence Square.

“People are already demanding their discount. What choice do we have but to give it, because these are perishable goods. And we are not clear on what our mark up is supposed to be,” he said.

In addition, FHS was one of many supermarkets who said their Christmas goods were purchased up to a week before the stipulated rebate period, 

“We want to know if a sale representative from NFM is going to come to us to work this out,” the manager said, showing bills of purchase for the rebate items that dated as far back as December 12.

The paperwork for the stock has also been worked out already, the manager said, with inventories completed.

Another supermarket owner said that section of the business community went through “a similar trauma” when the Government announced the removal of Value Added Tax (VAT) on thousands of items, without first informing retailers.

“Eventually, we were able to work out the kinks and the time-frame was better,” one Charlotte Street supermarket owner said yesterday.

“But this is real chaos. It is hard to work this out in the time frame and with business rushing for the season. These things need to be thought out better and the Government needs to inform the people who are concerned,” he said.

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