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Our View: Intervention by the authorities in the retail sector must stop

THE POLITICAL parties have won the latest battle in the ongoing war over shop opening hours. Ten days ago, a law that took away the power of the labour minister to issue decrees dictating opening hours was approved by the legislature. According to the new law, tabled by the champion of market intervention – AKEL – the government would now have to table regulations governing opening hours that would require approval on the legislature.

In other words, the deputies rather than the labour minister would decide what days and what times shops would open as they would amend the regulations submitted by the government in any way they choose to. This could signal the end of Sunday opening for shops in non-tourist areas, from May 1 as the minister’s decree expires on April 30. Regulations would have to be submitted to the legislature for amendments and approval well before then.

It is more than likely that the parties will satisfy the demand of the union of small shops POVEK, to end Sunday opening. The union has claimed that Sunday trade benefited only the big supermarkets and threatened small shops, which could not afford to stay open, with extinction. This position has been fully embraced by AKEL, which is dogmatically opposed to Sunday opening, and is likely to be backed by the smaller parties that also voted in favour of taking the power to issue decrees away from the labour minister; DISY was the only party that voted against the bill.

Ministerial decree is, admittedly, an antiquated tool of government but the answer is not the transfer of power to the legislature. The objective should be to stop the intervention in the operation of the market and not to change the authority that takes the decisions. What is needed is to do away with decrees and regulations and leave shops to decide their opening hours without any interference by the authorities. The market should determine whether shops open on Sundays and not deputies pandering to interest groups. Sunday shopping has become part of people’s lives, as a visit to any supermarket in Nicosia would show.

Intervention by the authorities in the retail sector must stop. That other stupendously idiotic measure – setting the sales period by ministerial decree – which penalised shops for advertising price reductions has finally been abandoned, but there are other things that need to be done.

The issuing of lists with what products 24-hour kiosks or bakeries could sell is another unnecessary form of intervention that was enforced at the demand of big supermarkets.

All this unnecessary intervention in the market that partly exists to justify the salaries of under-occupied civil servants and is used by the parties to win votes must stop. The market is much better able to satisfy consumer needs and wants, without decrees and regulations.

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