RIYADH: The Ministry of Commerce played a proactive role in protecting businesses and consumers during the coronavirus disease pandemic, working in conjunction with partners in the public and private sectors.
Continuous analysis of prices, suppliers’ information, inventories, warehouses and hypermarkets was conducted on a daily basis, according to Abdulrahman Al-Hussain, the official spokesman of the Ministry of Commerce.
As part of its efforts to guarantee the continuity of services to the business sector and ensure consumer protection during the pandemic, the ministry effectively focused on four pathways: The business sector, consumer protection and availability of products, coordination with government agencies, and e-commerce.
The business sector
The ministry received over 380,000 calls on its Consumer Call Center’s toll free number, all of which were citizens reporting violations from across the country, said Al-Hussain.
He noted that the government mitigated the pandemic’s economic impact on the private sector, deferring the charges for commercial certificates for more than 116 businesses for three months.
The ministry also formed ad-hoc committees across the country to guarantee the continuity of services provided to Saudis, working closely with the private sector and in conjunction with the authorities to remove any obstacles, the spokesman added.
Al-Hussain said the ministry assigned employees to carry out different transactions for businesses, sparing citizens the trouble of physically visiting ministry branches. The employees contacted the business owners and finalized all the procedures for them remotely.
Consumer protection and availability of products
Al-Hussain pointed out that the ministry worked around the clock to ensure that ample quantities of products were available, running over 400,000 inspection visits Kingdom-wide.
“We communicated directly with the suppliers and distributors of the basic commodities and made sure they had ample inventory and resolved any issue faced by the suppliers and distributors,” he said.
Al-Hussain added that the ministry tightened its control on markets, outlets, warehouses and wholesale markets to ensure that prices were stable.
Over 30,000 penalties were given to violators of the Commercial Fraud Law, those who manipulated prices or did not put price tags on products on shelves. An electronic system was employed to monitor prices of more than 217 basic food items.
The ministry increased the number of its call-center employees following the rise in the number of complaints as a result of the curfew, which made many people flock to the supermarkets. The call center also handled calls from online shoppers who used apps and websites during the curfew period and found that some companies failed to deliver the orders.
Coordination with government authorities
The ministry worked closely with all government authorities “with one team spirit” to provide citizens and expatriate residents with everything they needed during the pandemic. According to Al-Hussain, it partnered with the Ministry of Municipal and Rural Affairs and the Ministry of Health, as well as the Saudi Food and Drug Authority to monitor markets and fine violators.
Al-Hussain said the ministry continuously coordinated with the Ministry of Health and the Saudi Food and Drug Authority to ensure availability of ample quantities of sanitizers and face masks, while more than 25 million face masks and sanitizers were confiscated from different stores and outlets that took advantage of the situation and raised prices. Staff from these ministries inspected the masks, removed defective ones and reintroduced proper ones to markets, making sure they were sold at reasonable prices.
The ministry also coordinated with the General Authority for Competition to investigate monopolistic and exploitative practices, such as exorbitant prices, during the pandemic. It coordinated with the Ministry of Environment, Water and Agriculture to ensure there were no shortages of essential food items such as vegetables, fruit, and eggs, and to encourage local producers to increase production.
Al-Hussain said the ministry realized the importance of coordination with the Communications and Information Technology Commission in order to link hypermarkets and pharmacies with phone delivery apps, so that they could help provide consumers with everything they needed.
It worked with the commission to increase the number of apps from 20 to 32, he said, adding that the services offered by these apps were limited to food delivery before the pandemic. However, during the curfew period, more services were added, such as groceries from hypermarkets. The ministry worked with the commission and hypermarkets to launch a campaign encouraging the general public to order what they needed off the smart apps from the comfort of their homes.
The ministry worked closely with the Ministry of Communications and Information Technology to find urgent solutions to the challenges facing shipping and delivery companies.
Al-Hussain said team spirit “resulted in great success in all efforts exerted. The ministry and other agencies worked together to ensure there were food supplies, which proved to be the largest inventory in the Middle East.
“We thank Saudi citizens for showing a high-level of awareness during the pandemic in terms of food and material consumption.”