Prices on ‘essential’ goods protected by law after emergency declared

Cigarettes are NOT one of them…
fili@samoanews.com

Assistant Attorney General, Jedidiah Bigelow is reminding stores that it’s illegal to raise by 10% the price of certain consumer goods after the governor declares a state of emergency following a disaster.

However, a provision of the law states that raising the price by 10% is not unlawful if the business can provide proof it is not ‘unfair’. (See details towards the end of the story.)

In this case, Gov. Lolo Matalasi Moliga issued the declaration on Feb. 9 amid devastating winds and heavy rain from Tropical Storm Gita impacting American Samoa.

“Once the governor declares a state of emergency, it’s illegal for any business to raise prices of [certain] goods by 10%,” said Bigelow, who heads the Bureau of Consumer Protection, a division of the Attorney General’s Office.

Those goods are mainly essential items such as food, flashlights, blankets, emergency supplies, building supplies, water, and gasoline, he said for example.
In the past there were a lot of people who complained about the sudden hike in tobacco products — cigarettes — which “does not count” when it comes to an emergency declaration after a disaster, Bigelow explained.

(Samoa News learned of a store on the western side that was selling a pack of Benson Light for $9 last Saturday morning, and by yesterday, it was selling the same brand for $11.)
Any consumer who believes they are facing price gouging is asked to contract the AG’s Office, at 633-4163.

Evidence such as the name of the store and location as well as the item with the new price would be helpful with investigating a case. A photo is also helpful evidence.

“As soon as we get complaints, we will investigate them,” said Bigelow, who noted that consumers could also message or post on the Facebook page at of the American Samoa Bureau of Consumer Protection.

Bigelow was responding yesterday to Samoa News inquiries after reports surfaced about possible price gouging at certain stores on island.

Commerce Department director Keniseli Lafaele yesterday morning issued a public reminder to consumer and businesses about local law pertaining to price gouging after a disaster is declared.

The “prohibited unfair pricing practicing” law, states in part that upon the governor’s declaration and for a period of 30-days following the declaration:

BACKGROUND

•    It is unlawful for any person, contractor, business, or other entity to sell, rent or offer to sell or rent any consumer food items or goods, emergency supplies, medical supplies, building materials, housing, gasoline, or any other goods or services necessary in an emergency response for a price of more than ten percent (10%) above the price charged by that person, contractor, business or other entity for those goods or services immediately prior to the declaration of a state of emergency.

•    However, a greater price increase shall not be unlawful if that person can prove that the increase in price was directly attributable to additional costs imposed on it by the supplier of the goods, or directly attributable to additional costs for labor or materials used to provide the services, provided that in those situations where the increase in price is attributable to additional costs imposed by the supplier or additional costs of providing the goods or services during the state of emergency, the price represents no more than ten percent (10%) above the total of the cost to the seller plus the markup customarily applied by the seller for that good or service in the usual course of business immediately prior to the onset of the state of emergency.

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