DUBAI // Fruit and veg traders hoping to make a fast buck over Ramadan have reckoned without the eagle eye of Dr Hashim Al Nuaimi.
Two days after confiscating 11 trading licences and fining 27 stallholders for pricing offences at Al Meena market in Abu Dhabi, the Ministry of Economy's head of consumer protection turned his forensic gaze yesterday on Dubai's central fruit and vegetable market in Al Awir.
"It must be cheaper than that, especially during Ramadan," Dr Al Nuaimi declared as he grabbed a marker pen and changed the Dh20 price on a bag of onions to Dh15 and the Dh50 tag on a bag of potatoes to Dh40.
Next, Dr Al Nuaimi spotted a stall selling some watermelons at Dh2.50 and others at Dh2.
"The round ones cost Dh2.50 and the long ones Dh2," explained the trader. Commendable footwork, but the consumer watchdog was having none of it.
"They should all be sold at Dh2," said Dr Al Nuaimi as he tore up the price tag. "He bought them for Dh1.50 so he shouldn't take more than 50 fils of profit."
The stall next door sold a 20-kilogram box of South African oranges for Dh40. "This is a good price for Ramadan because it used to be Dh55," said Dr Al Nuaimi. "But he didn't display any tag."
The stallholder's neighbour was told off for selling pumpkins at Dh1.50 each. "He is selling it for double the price, it should only cost 75 fils," Dr Al Nuaimi said.
No stall escaped his laser gaze. One had its onions reduced from Dh8 to Dh5, and its potatoes from Dh50 to Dh45. Another dropped its onions from Dh50 to Dh20 and its tomatoes from Dh16 to Dh10.
"I'm telling all of them to reduce their prices because it's important for shoppers to have low costs on food during Ramadan," said Dr Al Nuaimi.
"Although the changes aren't major, it will still make a difference because there are many."
Dr Al Nuaimi's inspection tour was part of the ministry's campaign to monitor food prices across the country during the Holy Month.
On the whole, he pronounced himself more satisfied with Dubai's traders than with those in Abu Dhabi. "I only took two licences today and I fined the shopkeepers," he said.
"One stall was selling oranges for Dh55 when it should have been Dh37 and another had no price displayed on his watermelons.
"I changed some prices but nothing major so it seems people are committed to keeping prices low."
Fines for incorrect pricing range from Dh5,000 to Dh100,000. Inspectors revisit the market at night and the next morning to ensure prices remain low.
"We try to make sure products are available and at normal prices," said Yousuf Ali Hassan, deputy manager at the ministry's Dubai office.
"Tomatoes and herbs are the most used during Ramadan and their prices were hiked by 50 fils here so we made sure they got reduced."
Ministry inspectors will visit the Sharjah fruit and vegetable market this week, as well as larger chain stores throughout the country, including the Co-operative Society, Lulu and Spinney, after the Department of Economic Development reported a pre-Ramadan rise in prices in some hypermarkets.
To report food price rises during the Holy Month, consumers should contact the Ministry of Economy consumer protection hotline on 600 522225 or the Department of Economic Development on 800 8811 between 9am and 3pm.