Puerto Rico Consumer Affairs Dept gets reinforcements to oversee price freeze orders
SAN JUAN – Puerto Rico Consumer Affairs (DACO by its Spanish acronym) Secretary Michael Pierluisi announced Tuesday that 200 agents from the local Treasury Department will be assisting his agencies inspectors in ensuring compliance with the price freeze orders in place due to shortages in the aftermath of Hurricane María.
Pierluisi said he made the request for help to the governor to address the large number of complaints reported by the public about businesses that have allegedly raised the price of basic articles. The reports have been posted on social media or filed on the government’s website.
DACO inspectors, along with the 200 additional Treasury agents, will see that two orders are complied with. The first addresses a price freeze for basic items, and the second on the profit margin in the sale of fuel.
“In the coming days we will have 200 additional agents on the streets helping us with the oversight of these orders. That was the request I made to the governor two days ago. The governor approved it immediately and the secretary of the Treasury is putting into effect the governor’s guidelines,” he said during an impromptu press conference at the government’s makeshift Emergency Operations Center.
“After today, the agents will be in different regions, they are going to be working directly with DACO inspectors in the first two or three visits, and from then on they will be on their own issuing the violation warnings,” he added.
Pierluisi added that since Monday the complaints filed via the government’s website, has logged about 200 complaints. However, he said not all fall under his agency’s jurisdiction.
“Social networks have been a tremendous tool of control for us and most of the fines we are issuing were through complaints on the networks, but we must also be fair and clarify that not all the complaints seen on the networks are in fact violations of our orders,” Pierluisi said. “While there are many who are not complying, there are many more that are indeed complying with these orders. The majority of businesspeople in Puerto Rico are honest and are complying with the law. What is outrageous is a minority of these are using the emergency and people’s suffering to profit.”
The agency head also explained that businesses that have been fined represent all segments of the economy, but added that, on Monday, several supermarkets in Bayamón and Vega Alta were fined as well as gas stations in the metro area. Pierluisi added that more articles were included in the freeze order, but made clear the move meant a reinterpretation of the regulation not an expansion of the category.
“The original list has a provision that says it also includes all items necessary to recover from an emergency, and that can vary during the emergency. Two days ago, we did an interpretation of articles that were not specifically mentioned but which are included and that their price should be the same as before September,” Pierluisi explained.
Among the articles reviewed to be included in the new list are citronella candles and other insect repellents, flashlights, medicines, powerplants, as well as Tesla-type batteries and installation service, among others.
Diesel-price gouging investigated
Regarding complaints of diesel being sold at high prices, Pierluisi said DACO has opened an investigation into the matter, adding that the agency will refer the findings to the Justice Department.
“The investigation is being carried out. We have several ways of going about it, starting with the wholesalers themselves who are the ones who import the diesel and sell it,” Pierluisi said. “As for the Justice referral, it will come after we are done with the DACO investigation and I think the situation has normalized a little, but there are still many people and entities overcharging and we will investigate that.”
The agency will require information from businesses, condominiums and private individuals who purchased the fuel to learn who it was bought from in order to take legal action.
“These people are not going to be penalized, but we will require that they give us this information because it is required by law for them to answer with the truth. If they refuse, then they could be penalized,” he said.