DUBAI // Shops that raise food prices in Ramadan will face a "three strikes and you're out" rule - and "out" means legal action and possible closure.
Shoppers were urged yesterday to contact the consumer protection department of the Ministry of Economy if they found any shops raising their prices.
"We will investigate these places and if there is a case to answer we will take action," said Dr Hashim Al Nuaimi, the department's director. "If the shop lowers the price to what it should be, then no action will be taken."
There will be follow-up inspections and if prices have risen the shop will be fined. If it happens again, the matter will go to the courts.
"We want to work with the retailers and our aim isn't to fine or close shops," Dr Al Nuaimi said. "But if they repeatedly ignore the rules they could be fined between Dh5,000 and Dh100,000, and then if that doesn't work we can send the issue to the courts."
The ministry employs 22 inspectors but also enlists help from municipalities.
This year about 230 items, including staples such as milk, sugar, meats, fruit, vegetables and rice, will be sold at a standard, low price until the end of Eid.
"Our main concern is to make sure consumers have access to these items throughout Ramadan and that they are affordable," said Dr Al Nuaimi.
The discounts apply to all supermarkets and shops, including large retailers such as Carrefour, LuLu and Spinneys.
Supermarkets will also have special Ramadan baskets available at fixed prices. The Emirates Co-operative Society has two of them available for customers: one costing Dh100 for 25 of the most popular items, and Dh250 for 45 everyday goods.
"The idea is that these baskets will have enough to feed a family of five for a week," said Farid Al Shamandi, general manager of the Emirates Co-op, which has eight branches.
"We have spent Dh8.3 million on discounts for consumers as part of the price-reduction campaign. Last year the same basket cost Dh200, but now it is Dh100, and that is a big saving."
The chain also offers a Ramadan discount card for government employees.
Not everyone shopping at the Co-op was convinced of the savings.
"I'm not sure the discounts are as big an advantage to customers," said Salma Al Mollah, an Emirati. "A lot of times they package stuff together and you end up getting something you don't really need."
Ms Al Mollah shops for a family of 25 and has a weekly bill of Dh3,000.
"I'm not so sure these discounts will make a big difference for my family," she said. "Many of the items are things we don't really have or use."
Manoj Kumar, an Indian national from Sharjah, welcomed the move.
"I think it's good the Government is making the prices lower," Mr Kumar said. "But they need to check the prices in the smaller shops because I find that they are the ones that tend to be more expensive than the big supermarkets."
Dubai Municipality's food inspectors will be out in force during Ramadan, focusing on the hours leading up to iftar.
They will check restaurants from 1pm to 6pm every day, and Ramadan tents between 8.30pm and 2am.
"Ramadan is now in the summer, and the heat acts as a catalyst to food contaminants, so we have to be more vigilant," said Sultan Ali Al Taher, head of food inspection. The department also launched a campaign aimed at householders, Safe Food Saves Food.
To report food price rises during Ramadan, contact the Ministry of Economy consumer rights hotline on 600 522225.
* With additional reporting by Mohammed Al Khan