Coronavirus: MTI demands retailer 3 Stars explain mask prices after public complaints

MP Louis Ng posted a photo on Facebook of a box of masks going for $138 in his Nee Soon constituency. PHOTO: LOUIS NG KOK KWANG/FACEBOOK

SINGAPORE - A retailer has been ordered to explain the price of its masks after complaints about it profiteering during the coronavirus outbreak.

The Ministry of Trade and Industry (MTI) on Tuesday (Feb 11) said it had issued a letter of demand to retailer 3 Stars on Monday to submit explanations and documents on the sale of masks, including cost prices and profit margins.

The retailer needs to respond by Wednesday or it will be fined up to $10,000 if it is the first offence, and up to $20,000 for subsequent offences.

The Straits Times understands that the retailer is the one mentioned by MP Louis Ng on Facebook last Saturday. He had posted a photo of a box of masks going for $138 in his Nee Soon constituency.

In response to queries from ST, Mr Ng said that no one should be profiteering from the current situation, and that jacking up prices might cause panic.

"Many people are understandably upset but we should give 3 Stars a chance to provide an explanation," he added.

In its statement, the MTI said that profiteering is a highly irresponsible and damaging act.

"We urge all retailers to practise corporate social responsibility and not take advantage of the increased demand to raise prices unreasonably," it said.

The ministry added it had earlier issued a similar letter to Deen Express, and four requests for information to e-commerce platforms Lazada, Carousell, Qoo10 and Shopee.

Deen Express has since replied to "unreservedly apologise" for its pricing strategy and has promised to immediately correct its pricing practices.

The e-commerce platforms have provided the requested information and are working with the MTI to address any profiteering practices on the platforms.

The MTI added that the Consumers Association of Singapore (Case) and the Competition and Consumer Commission of Singapore are closely monitoring the situation and will investigate any unfair and anti-competitive practices.

Shops islandwide have seen a shortage of surgical and N95 masks as the number of confirmed coronavirus cases climbed to 45 on Monday.

The Government has also extended the deadline for families to collect free masks from community centres till Feb 29.

On Sunday, Trade and Industry Minister Chan Chun Sing said his ministry would investigate numerous reports of errant retailers, and was also working with online platforms against such profiteering.

Reiterating that Singapore's supplies are sufficient, he said Singaporeans have a choice not to succumb to such "unfair and unethical profiteering".

Members of the public can report errant sellers to Case on 6100-0315.

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