ABU DHABI // Restaurants and cafes are still overcharging for local bottled water three months after consumer protection officials said they were breaking the law.
Customers say they have given up calling the Ministry of Economy hotline to complain because there is no response, or when there is a response no action is taken to halt the overcharging.
A survey of 60 restaurants and cafes by The National in July found that almost all sold local water at vastly inflated prices. One increased the legal maximum price by more than 2,000 per cent, and mark-ups of more than 1,000 per cent were widespread.
Dr Hashim Al Nuaimi, the ministry's head of consumer protection, said yesterday there would be no further formal notification about the law.
"We don't need to announce it because they should know it's not fair to increase the price from 75 fils in grocery stores to Dh15 in their shops," he said.
Dr Al Nuaimi said he makes clear how much local bottled water should cost through newspapers and radio broadcasts each year.
"When consumers pay Dh1 or less for a small 500ml-bottle of local water in grocery stores, they should not pay more than Dh3 in restaurants and cafes.
"You get some service, seating and air conditioning in these places, which is why you pay Dh2 to Dh3. But everybody knows it should not go over Dh3."
Any food outlet breaking the law will be fined between Dh5,000 and Dh100,000, he said. He urged consumers to report those who overcharge to the ministry hotline on 600 522225.
Despite that, restaurant and cafe managers in malls in Abu Dhabi and Dubai say they know nothing about a law on the price of bottled water.
And prices have not changed: a small bottle costs Dh5 at Morelli in Al Wahda Mall in Abu Dhabi, Dh8 at Galler in the same shopping centre, Dh8 at Finz Mediterranean in Ibn Battuta Mall in Dubai and Dh10 at Japengo in the same mall.
One customer, Emine Baysal, was charged Dh22 for a large bottle of Aquafina at Thai Chi restaurant in Wafi Mall in Dubai, Dh16 for the same bottle at Japengo and Dh16 for a large bottle of Masafi at China Tang at the Dubai Creek Gold and Yacht Club.
She called the ministry hotline last week, and after countless failed attempts to get through, she filed three complaints.
"They took my details and told me the information would be forwarded to the correct zone," she said. She was assured action would be taken, or at least an investigation would be launched, within 24 hours. She was also told staff would follow up with her on the progress of her complaint.
A week later, Ms Baysal had not been contacted. When she called again, she was told her complaint had been "sent to the consumer department's head office at the Ministry of Economy in Abu Dhabi".
Staff said inspectors were carrying out a "survey" for the complaint, which meant they were checking the prices themselves. They said it would take 24 hours to process a complaint.
As a result, Ms Baysal's complaint was sent again to the department to "investigate the matter".
The hotline staff say inspectors have to check prices themselves when a complaint is made.
Ahmet Kianin, a British resident from Dubai, paid Dh10 for a 500ml-bottle of Al Ain water. "That costs less than Dh1 in stores," he said. "How can this be justified?"
When Wadeema Alkhoori visited Ferrari World with her family, she paid Dh12 for a small bottle of local water at a kiosk.
"We were aware that this was out of hand but we had to pay because we had no other option," she said. "It is disgraceful for a company to take such blatant advantage of its consumers."
Ms Alkhoori said the hotline was not advertised as well as it should be.
Joe A was charged Dh6 for a small bottle of water at his local shisha shop in Dubai. After trying to contact the hotline four times to no avail, he gave up.
Another customer, Grace, found that Kino's Cafe in Dubai Mall and Dome Cafe in Reef Mall in Deira were charging Dh5 for a small bottle of local water.
She also stopped calling the hotline after repeated calls went unanswered.