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15 July, 2024
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The theatrical hypocrisy of passing the e-kalathi bill

From urgent request to unexpected twists: The journey of the e-kalathi bill and the battle for market transparency

Maria Eracleous

Maria Eracleous

In early March, during the Commerce Committee meeting, the first one attended by the current Minister of Energy, the committee chairman, along with all the members, to be fair, urgently requested the government to submit a bill. This bill would create a tool to empower the consumer and provide them with an opportunity to better understand the market data before going shopping.

The impression had been created that if the relevant Ministry expressed its intention and the Parliament showed a positive approach, things would swiftly progress, resulting in a beneficial outcome for consumers. Ultimately, that was the desired outcome. However, the subsequent course of events took unexpected turns and seemed to be influenced by developments seemingly unrelated to the specific issue. One example of this could be the official decision of the DISY Party to maintain an opposition role. The available information suggests a complete change in the stance of the head of the Commerce Committee regarding the e-kalathi bill. Initially, a narrow timeframe of approximately one month was given for submitting the bill, accompanied by an assurance from the responsible department that prompt response would be provided to the Parliament's request. By the end of April, the bill had passed through the Cabinet and was promptly presented to the Parliament. Nevertheless, it appears that the parliamentary committee did not find the time to discuss it in the subsequent weeks. Instead, we observed other issues taking precedence on the agenda, such as the carob tree law. How is it possible that while strict timelines were set to regulate an issue directly impacting consumers, those deadlines were not upheld?

During the parliamentary debate on the issue, the committee chairman expressed strong opposition, claiming that the content of the bill deviated significantly from the initial expectations and failed to address measures for managing inflation. He even argued that the consumer would find the process of price comparison, facilitated by this digital tool, too complex. Therefore, he questioned whether it would be better to deny consumers any such tool altogether.

These positions would have been more justifiable if the chairman had not been involved in previous discussions or been following the reports on the subject, which have been numerous over the past two months. It became evident that the disagreement was not solely based on specific provisions within the bill but rather stemmed from a fundamental difference in philosophy. This shift in attitude was surprising, at least initially.

One would anticipate a parliamentary debate to involve an exchange of views and constructive suggestions from both MPs and attendees. However, no such constructive or helpful suggestions were put forward. Instead, the prevailing approach seemed to be that this measure would ultimately lead to the demise of the free market.

This tool serves to improve price transparency, meaning that consumers will have more awareness of the prices of approximately 350 products. If this information proves useful to them, they can choose to utilize it. However, we should consider the potential distortion this information may cause in the bargaining process. It is reasonable to expect attempts to keep prices low, at least for certain products, which may create pressure on a specific group of professionals. Is the concern of these professionals about the pressure exerted by supermarkets on suppliers? I find it hard to believe the argument being presented about the demise of small businesses is sincere. Smaller supermarkets cater to the needs of a different consumer profile, and they have not typically been chosen as the most economical option by consumers. When faced with the choice between proximity and the lowest price, the lowest price does not always win. Ultimately, there are various factors consumers consider before deciding where to shop, with convenience being a significant consideration. Some consumers even opt for online shopping, including for groceries.

A constructive suggestion would be to explore the possibility of extending the digital platform to include e-commerce and Cypriot food and commodity retail platforms. However, we did not hear such suggestions. Instead, all we heard was strong disagreement and concern that this digital tool would inevitably destroy the market. One argument raised was the potential for price collusion with e-kalathi. If there are any loopholes or areas that require improvement, they should be addressed. We are not claiming that this tool will solve the problem of accuracy, but it will certainly enhance market transparency. It is surprising that something as simple as this can trigger such strong and intricate reactions, not only from the professional associations involved but especially from opposition parties who have found in this bill an opportunity for opposition. Surely there are more pressing issues where opposition parties can play a meaningful and beneficial role. Moreover, considering the technology tools available today, it shouldn't be too difficult to envision similar tools to e-kalathi being eventually created through private initiatives.

[This article was translated from its Greek original] 

Cyprus  |  consumer  |  business

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