Commodity hoarders will be punished: Wu


TAIPEI, The government will prosecute “big hoarders” found to be stockpiling major staple commodities, Premier Wu Den-yih warned yesterday.

The premier issued his warning as prices of products such as powdered milk, bread, sugar, cooking oil and instant noodles are either rising or set to go up.

Answering questions at the Legislative Yuan, Wu said that if businessmen take advantage of January cuts in import tariffs by hoarding major commodities for profit, the government will punish them.

Minister of Justice Tseng Yung-fu, who is tasked with prosecuting these cases, was also present at the legislative session to answer questions. He disclosed that prosecutors in Taipei and Tainan are already probing one case each of commodity speculation.

“We’re trying to find the very sources of this activity: wholesalers suspected of engaging in illegal stockpiling,” Tseng told the legislators. The government’s efforts to strike at illegal hoarders will have impact only if the “big ones” are caught, the minister added.

Hoarders could be prosecuted according to various laws, including Criminal Law and the Fair Trade Law.

When Kuomintang (KMT) Legislator Tsai Chin-lung asked what the government will do in response to rising prices of daily necessities, the premier said that the government has several policy tools to work with, including further reductions of import duties, commodity taxes and business taxes, as well as the suspension of exports of certain products.

State-run enterprises could also be asked to absorb increased commodity costs as part of government efforts to contain price hikes and gauge whether any illegal price speculation is going on, Wu said.

In order to help the public cope with rising commodity prices, Tsai, the KMT legislator, suggested the government take the lead by raising salaries for government workers, which would put pressure on private sector employers to do the same.

If the government did nothing in this regard, Tsai warned that Taiwan would go the way of Japan, where the economy slipped into a “lost decade” and wages could not keep pace with rising costs.

Wu is optimistic that such a scenario will not happen in Taiwan, citing strong performances in tourism as well as wholesale and retail businesses in recent months.

As for a pay raise for government employees, Wu said 51 percent of Taiwan’s listed companies are already planning to increase wages. Therefore, the government will decide whether to follow suit after it studies the first quarter economic growth rate.

“If the economy grows in a stable way,” said Wu, “we will consider raising salaries for the nation’s public servants.”