SHARJAH // More than half the stalls at Sharjah's fruit and vegetable market had their trading licences confiscated by the Ministry of Economy yesterday, mostly for failing to comply with Ramadan price controls.
Sixty of the 116 stallholders were also fined Dh5,000 by Dr Hashim Al Nuaimi, the head of consumer protection at the ministry, after they displayed hefty prices or failed to provide receipts on demand.
Some were penalised twice, but the cost will extend beyond the fines, with the stallholders barred from trading until they have paid.
The ministry's tour of the fruit, vegetable, fish and meat markets in Sharjah was part of its campaign to monitor food prices across the country during the month of Ramadan.
"Prices must always be displayed and separated per produce," said Dr Al Nuaimi as he pointed to the same price tag for a shop's tomatoes and parsley.
Next door, a box of nine peaches, according to the owner, were priced at Dh15 "but nothing is shown to the consumer", said Dr Al Nuaimi.
A stallholder nearby proudly showed off his Dh5 price tag for a kilo of cucumbers. But he could not produce receipts as proof that he had been charging that price.
“This is the third time I have visited his shop and I gave him a warning the first couple of times when he didn’t show me any receipts,” said Dr Al Nuaimi, handing over a Dh5,000 fine. “This kind of behaviour is unacceptable.”
The next shop, Al Manar, received the same treatment for not displaying any prices. A large bag of onions there cost Dh65, a price Ali Fadel, the head of consumer protection at the Sharjah Economic Department, called ridiculous.
“That price at wholesale is too high,” Mr Fadel said. “Outside at another stall, it’s Dh25 for the same product.”
The next two shops, Al Hajir and Al Ghusia, were fined twice: for not putting proper price tags on their tomatoes and lettuce; and for charging exorbitant prices, about Dh15 for a lettuce and Dh30 for a small box of tomatoes.
The neighbouring stall, Jebel Noor, displayed watermelons and mangoes, a carton of which was on sale for Dh40.
“It’s way too expensive,” Dr Al Nuaimi told the shopkeeper. “It should be Dh20 like it is in Dubai.”
The owner of the Al Farwaniah stall also priced a carton of mangoes at Dh35, which cost him his licence.
The price of dates also came under scrutiny. Al Majaz Dates charged Dh10 for a large tray of Al Dabbas dates and Dh15 for Al Khalas.
“I’m taking his licence because his prices are not displayed correctly,” explained Dr Al Nuaimi.
One grocer had priced all of his produce but “he priced them all a minute before I arrived”, Dr Al Nuaimi said.
Another had a couple of rotten tomatoes, prompting him to question Raed Makhlouf, an inspector with the municipality’s food control section.
“Some vegetables are just there to be showcased,” said Mr Makhlouf. “If large quantities of produce are rotten then we throw them away.”
The Al Majlis and Badiria kiosks lost their licences for failing to display prices for their lettuce and mangoes.
“It’s all so unclear yet I told them 20 times to put the prices for consumers otherwise it’s illegal,” said Dr Al Nuaimi.
But there were no similar problems at the neighbouring meat market.
Only one butcher, Ahmad Issa, failed to display a tag, which was supposed to be on his chilled Australian lamb.
Mr Issa presented a health certificate stamped by the Sharjah municipality and a halal certificate from the emirate’s airport.
“It’s hard to keep track of prices during Ramadan because it gets very crowded and I’m not always in the shop,” he said.
At the fish market, baby sharks were priced at Dh80 a kilo – expensive, said Mr Fadel.
“Even the hammour is Dh15 a kilo when it should be Dh10,” he said.
A few barracudas were not quite fresh and a couple of subaiti fish were sold at Dh25 a kilo, Dh10 more than normal.
“It is definitely better than last year’s Ramadan prices,” said Dr Nuaimi, “but it remains a bit high.”
Mr Fadel said most shopkeepers needed time to adjust prices to Ramadan “because markets get really packed during this month but we have it under control”.
“We need to find a way with the ministry for shopkeepers to regulate and display prices in a much easier manner,” he added.