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House commerce committee torn over implementation of e-kalathi

woman using mobile phone while shopping in supermarket

MPs on Tuesday were split during a House commerce committee discussion on the effectiveness of e-kalathi in eliminating unfair competition between smaller and larger businesses.

Konstantinos Karagiorgis, director of the consumer protection service, told the committee that based on the service’s research, the implementation of the electronic shopping basket app, which would allow people to compare prices for a variety of different household products across supermarkets, will benefit consumers.  

Quizzed on the benefits by MPs, he said that according to research, a consumer can save up to 50 for 44 products. 

At the same time, a representative from the competition protection commission said it would be considering the committee’s positions. 

Committee chair Kyriacos Hadjiyiannis was critical of the government, which he accused of being “the stupidest in Europe” since, in his words, it is implementing policies that increase inflation instead of reducing it. 

“The big sparkler that the government is trying to use to light up the minds of Cypriot consumers is collapsing,” he said, because it lacks consultation and yet is being presented as a cure for inflation. 

He also said that the government had “interfered,” causing the competition protection commission, an independent authority, to change its stance, arguing that by not extending fuel and electricity measures it created an increase in the cost of production. 

Meanwhile, Akel deputy Costas Costa said although it has reservations on whether unfair competition conditions will be created by the implementation of e-kalathi, the party is in favour of an article-by-article discussion of the bill, “both where we agree and where we disagree”. 

Diko’s Chrysis Pantelides accused the committee chair and other Disy deputies of stonewalling the discussion, pointing out that discussions on e-kalathi began during the Anastasiades government. 

Karagiorgis rubbished claims that there was no consultation, saying that the consultation process for the bill has been completed as stipulated by the relevant law, considering the views of everyone involved.  

He noted that as stipulated, after the approval of the bill, the consumer protection service will enter into a new consultation with all those involved for the final configuration of the platform. 

A representative of the association of consumer product suppliers said they support any action that will help the consumer, but expressed concerns over the implementation of e-kalathi. 

He explained that members of the association are not happy about the fact that information is being made public painting them and retailers in a bad light, “as thieves who change prices whenever and however we want”. 

On behalf of the retailers association, Marios Antoniou said that transparency is not an issue as supermarkets have prices for several products online.  

Since the proposed platform will guide consumers which supermarket to choose, he questioned who ensures that these products will have the same barcodes. 

The shopkeepers association (Povek) expressed concerns that the use of e-kalathi will backfire for smaller businesses as it would effectively act as a “free ad” for larger businesses.  

Similarly, a representative from the supermarkets’ association said that out of its 250 members, 220 are small and medium-sized businesses which may take a blow.  

He spoke of “hostile behaviour” towards the sector, adding that rather than address the real issues, like electricity, fuel and interest rates, the state chooses to create an online platform, which is the easiest course of action. 

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