From the time Covid-19 started, people all around the world having been scrambling to get two things (besides toilet paper): face masks and hand sanitizers. And Malaysians have been doing likewise. To protect themselves against the virus, more and more people were buying masks and sanitizers, causing a great demand for these items. They ended up getting sold out in many places and shops that did have them started to increase their prices bit by bit... until they even doubled and tripled.
Because masks and sanitizers are seen as essentials during Covid-19, people were willing to buy them anyway. But this didn’t help, because the prices ended up soaring to unbelievable amounts and some sellers were charging hundreds of ringgit for one box of face masks.
Although this IS very frustrating for us users, the good news is that the authorities have been clamping down on such sellers and slapping them with hefty fines. But, what can we do as buyers to ensure that more and more of these sellers face the law? Before that, here’s what you need to know on the pricing of face masks and hand sanitizers itself.
Face masks are controlled, but not hand sanitizers
So far, the government has only set the prices for face masks and not for hand sanitizers. Hand sanitizers come in various grades and so fixing a specific price for them would be difficult. But for face masks, the requirement to have a fixed price is in accordance with the Price Control (Controlled Prices) Order 2009 and the Price Control (Maximum Pricing) (No.2) Order 2009. Since January 2020 up to now, March 2020, the government has adjusted the prices for face masks several times, but at the time of writing, the prices are as seen in the image above. And since the government has already fixed the prices for those type of face masks, selling them at higher prices than that would be against the law.
Section 11 of the Price Control and Anti-Profiteering Act 2011 states:
Section 18 of the same Act explains the penalty for such an offence. If a seller is a registered business, the penalty is a maximum fine of RM500,000 for the first offence and if they do it again, the maximum fine is RM1,000,000. But if it is just an individual seller who doesn’t own a business, the penalty would be a maximum fine of RM100,000 for the first time and if they commit the offence again, a maximum fine of RM250,000, or a jail term of not more than 5 years, or both.
Unfortunately, this law doesn’t apply to online sellers. According to the President of the Malaysian Pharmaceutical Society (MPS) Amrahi Buang, in an article by Cilisos, online sellers are hard to trace which makes it difficult to enforce this law on them. But here’s a tip from us: you can still report sellers like this to the platform on which you found them and these sellers’ postings might then be removed.
But sellers aren’t the only ones who will get in trouble: If you purchase fixed-price items at marked-up prices, you would also be committing an offence. Section 12 of the Price Control and Anti-Profiteering Act 2011 says:
The penalty for this is exactly the same as sellers who sell price-controlled items at higher prices. The only defence to this would be if you genuinely had no idea that seller was charging you much more than the fixed price.
But coming back to unscrupulous sellers, where do we go and who do we tell if we come across them selling face masks and hand sanitizers at ridiculously high prices?
KPDNHEP to the rescue
Kementerian Perdagangan Dalam Negeri dan Hal Ehwal Pengguna, also known as KPDNHEP is the government body that is responsible for domestic trade and consumer rights. One of their key roles is to ensure that the prices of certain items are not above the fixed amount, so that Malaysians will not be forced to pay through their noses for essential items. Besides face masks, you can check out their website for other price-controlled items.
But KPDNHEP’s job isn’t just to fix prices for items—they will also take action against sellers who sell these items at higher prices. So, if you notice such sellers, you can file a complaint with KPDNHEP. They can be reached via these channels:
- toll free number at 1-800-886-800
- online complaint system
- WhatsApp at 019-2794317
Make sure to get as much proof as you can for your complaint, such as images and details of the seller, so that it would be easier for KPDNHEP to investigate the case.
Shops can limit how much you can buy
To adhere to prices set by the government and to ensure that stocks are enough for everyone, those selling masks and sanitizers CAN only sell a certain amount per customer. You may have seen several shops put up notices that each customer can only buy X amount of masks or sanitizers or other disinfectants—this is perfectly legal. Popular e-commerce platform Lazada had set a restriction on how many masks each customer could buy back in February 2020. Local hypermarket Mydin also put up a list of items that could only be bought in 2 units per customer, and face masks and sanitizers were included in the list.
Even if you go to a shop that doesn’t have such a restriction, make sure to be civic-conscious and only buy only what you need. Health Director General, Datuk Dr Noor Hisham Abdullah has also said a few times that not everyone needs to wear masks, but only those who are sick or dealing with sick people. Many of our frontliners, especially medical staff are running out of face masks and other protective gear, so we should do our part to ensure that those who really do need them, have enough.