Our culture does not tolerate transparency, said on Tuesday the Minister of Energy, Trade and Industry, George Papanastasiou
Our culture does not tolerate transparency, said on Tuesday the Minister of Energy, Trade and Industry, Giorgos Papanastasiou, after the debate in the Parliament of the bill on the electronic shopping cart, where the majority of those present expressed the their disagreement with the measure and asked for a new consultation.
At the start of the debate on the proposed bill for the recording and monitoring of retail prices of products, the majority of the members of the Parliamentary Committee on Energy, Trade, Industry and Tourism, asked the Minister to re-grant a period of time for consultation with the stakeholders and to submit again, with Mr. Papanastasiou stating that he will consult with the President of the Republic to decide the next steps.
During the debate, the Minister informed the Committee about the provisions of the bill and how this tool will work. He said the purpose is to enact a law that will provide for the process of collecting and monitoring the retail prices of consumer products by the Ministry's Consumer Protection Service. The aim, he said, is to enable the implementation of a digital tool, the e-basket, which will provide the consumer with price transparency, the ability to compare prices and immediate information on the prices and availability of important household products.
He said that the consumer will be able to make their own basket to see the best price available in their area. Their priority, he said, is food, baby and household items.
He also said, among other things, that the prices will be shared in the app every day at 8 and will automatically change according to the changes made by each supermarket, while they will see how they can ensure a filter so that an initial price does not enter into a product and be used “as a bark of the day” and suddenly the price goes up.
The Minister said that, for businesses there will be an initial cost to participate in the application, while there will be no cost for consumers.
In the discussion, the majority of the participants expressed disagreement with the implementation of this tool, citing as arguments, among other things, that small and medium-sized businesses will be hurt since they will not be able to compete with large supermarkets in terms of prices, but also that they should to hire staff to put these prices on the platform which means increased costs for them.
The representative of the Commission for the Protection of Competition (EPA), Antonia Aristodemou, noted that it will possibly create distortions in the market, since will allow businesses to monitor the behavior of their competitors and there is a risk of collusion or tacit collusion by competitors to the detriment of consumers.
Charalambos Papantoniou, president of the All-Cypriot Association of Cyprus Hypermarkets, said that they strongly disagree with the Ministry's proposed law since it will lead to unequal competition between small, medium and large hypermarkets.
He also said that in the last 40 years no case of profiteering has been observed, while the Ministry is coming to intervene in free competition, noting that in a very few months from its implementation, medium and small companies will begin to close one after the other supermarkets. He pleaded with the House to reject the bill, saying there is not a single reason to do this program because the market is working perfectly, he said.
The representative of the Pancypriot Retail Association, Marios Antoniou, said that competition between supermarkets is very intense and is always to the benefit of the consumer, and they disagree that it will support consumers, citing Greece as an example, which, he said, was not observed reduction in prices from the application of the specific tool. He noted that small businesses cannot achieve the same prices as large ones.
Disagreement and concern about competitive pressures on smaller businesses were also expressed by the representatives of KEBE, OEB, POVEK, and others, such as Limassol Grocers Association and OUR Hypermarkets Association.
Among other things, they asked for another consultation by the Ministry on the matter, saying that either they were not invited or their suggestions were not listened to. They also raised the issue of quality, and not just the price of the products.
On behalf of the consumers, Marios Drousiotis, president of the Cyprus Consumers' Association, said that any tool in the hands of the consumer that will help him make choices is welcome, however, he expressed the position that this tool will not contribute to the reduction of inflation. He also said that the comparison that is being attempted should be made with similar products, only with the bar code of the products, also referring to an investigation by the European Commission on double quality and specifically that there should be no differences in the quality of the same product produced in different factories such as soft drinks. We are not denying that we are in favor of this tool, but in its proper form, he said, noting that the disparity of price disclosure between small and large businesses already exists.
Loukas Aristodemou, president of the All Cyprus Consumers and Quality of Life Union, said their own survey, to be announced on Wednesday, showed that 7 out of 10 cite accuracy as a major problem, and said this bill would improve many “wrong things » that exist in what supermarkets call competition. He said that supermarkets do not respect the customer's right to complete information and choice and that some do not want this transparency. He said that the prices of the same products should be given in the application.
DISY Member of Parliament, Averof Neophytou, noted that, while he credits the government with having good intentions, this move is “blatantly intrusive” and not in the consumer's favor. He said that both the taxpayer and the consumer will have a cost since the extra cost borne by the supermarkets will be added to their prices, while the taxpayer will pay for the possibly more employees that the Ministry will need to hire for this implementation. He also said that, in the end, the state will advertise the big supermarkets for free.
Nikos Sykas (DISY), said that the aim and purpose of the n/s are conflicting and does not create the conditions for healthy competition. He noted that it is not possible, in a market, to compare small and medium enterprises with large enterprises. He also said that they should not nullify the Ministry's effort and asked for it to come back targeted, and wondered what kind of public consultation was done, since the stakeholders express their disagreement.
AKEL Member of Parliament, Costas Costas, said that they welcome any effort by any Government for transparency and defense of consumer rights, but care must be taken in what is attempted, so as not to create serious competition issues. Small businesses will not survive, he said and raised the issue of “label”, in terms of quality and construction. He asked that a reasonable period of time be given for systematic consultation, to see if the text can be improved. He noted that what was suggested by the interested parties was not taken into account.
Andreas Pasiourtidis, also an AKEL MP, said that there was no reason to proceed with something that would create new gaps and asked for a new consultation to entertain the concerns.
Similarly, Giannakis Gavriil (AKEL) suggested that the Ministry consult again and from there, he said, the Committee will decide how to proceed.
The MP of DIKO, Chrysis Pantelidis, said that he was in favor of the n/s and the initiative which, he said, has existed since November 2002 when he was in the opposition, and he said that he was surprised to hear the MPs of DISY, mainly , to say what they say in session today.
He also said that the EPA's complaint was “very serious” and questioned since when does information and transparency hurt competition and promote the creation of cartels. He said that the issues raised by the attendees are already existing issues since apparently, he said, the small supermarkets buy the products more expensively than the big ones, and it is not the e-cart that creates these problems. It is a matter of time before such an application is made by anyone, he said, adding that if the provisions need improvements they will discuss them.
Michalis Giakoumis of DIPA expressed concern about accuracy and the problems faced by households and said that the e-basket does not solve these problems but is a tool from the state for transparency and he does not understand why there is so much negativity about it.< /p>
Stavros Papadouris, Member of Parliament for the Environmentalist Movement-Citizens' Partnership, said that, from the looks of things, the scale seems to be tipped more towards cost rather than benefit, and that, at the end of the day, it is healthy competition that determines prices. It was suggested that the n/s should come again, a little “wiser”. He also said that consumers rely more on advertisements and do not visit such platforms, such as the e-cart, much.
The Minister said at the end of the debate that he was not surprised by the statements he heard, except that of the EPA, and noted that they are trying to give a tool to the consumer for transparency, and that “we are a small market controlled by some”.
In his statements after the debate, the Minister stated that, with the bill, transparency in consumer products is strengthened, noting that the debate did not satisfy him, “for the reason that fears surfaced that had never been told to us before in the public consultations and the these fears reflect, exactly, the environment we have in Cyprus”. Simply, he said, “in Cyprus we are afraid of transparency”, and the specific tool promoted by the Government of Nikos Christodoulides, strengthens transparency in favor of the consumer. What he heard today in the Committee is exactly the opposite, he added, since “the quiver came out of the phobias and not the good of this tool”. This, he said, does not satisfy him, as Minister “and I would ask, instead of various fears being expressed so that this tool cannot work, to tell the truth, that they do not want transparency. Our culture does not tolerate transparency and they should dare to say it boldly to the consumer”.
Asked if they intend to proceed to a new consultation, he said that he will consult with the President of the Republic and decide the next steps. He said that as a Ministry, they will fight it to the end, noting that their concern is the consumer and not the various interests. He said there is precision and they will provide as many tools as they can, “with as many battles as we need to fight and if we lose them, we will lose them not because we made mistakes, but because others don't want them.”
Responding to a related update, he said that the EPA's position surprised him because there are many other prices that the consumer is aware of, from travel agencies that are basically all on platforms, from the petrol stations themselves that are on the same road and post the prices their prices “and suddenly the EPA comes and tells us that this will create a cartel”. The cartels, he said, are not done with transparency, but behind transparency.
Declarations of MPs
The President of the Committee, Kyriakos Hatzigiannis, said that, unfortunately, in the discussion, an image was presented that there was no substantial support from any of the guests, regarding this proposal, and that they called on the Government to “go back” and if and as long as it judges everything the negatives he has heard from everyone, “to rethink them and is welcome to come back with a new proposal with new content”.
He said that while the initial philosophy during the discussions was based on two pillars, namely to ensure absolute transparency in the market and to create a competitive feature between supermarkets, “essentially the Government has only brought the institutionalization of the operation of an electronic application » to assist as a tool for the Service or Ministry to administratively achieve a price comparison. He said he doesn't think it helps the consumer at all, who he said doesn't have time to sit and compare online.
Responding to a question, he said that through the N/S the aim was to provide a measurable response to the inflation in the food sector, and that the Minister did not hear the slightest mention that he aims to respond to the challenge of inflation. He said that those conditions should be created so that supermarkets can compete with each other, not the consumer himself preparing his own baskets. The competitive feature is completely missing from the n/s, he said.
Mr. Costas said in his statements that what the people who are fighting to live their families in conditions of terrible precision want are essentially measures to fight against profiteering and not half measures.
In his statements, Mr. Pantelidis, said among other things that they have heard the opinions of all involved, including the disagreements or reservations of the former governors and the EPA, “which caused surprise”, which, he said, they will take into account during the article-by-article discussion of the Bill .
Mr. Giakoumis said in his statements that “transparency should not scare us either and we must pursue healthy, unadulterated and meritorious competition” and that they emphasized in the past as well as today, that they prefer more tangible solutions for citizens, such as electricity and fuel subsidies and zero VAT on basic necessities that are applied “and this list can be expanded” and VAT on pollutants and fuel consumption tax which should also be done immediately to further alleviate the citizens.