Government officials acknowledged yesterday that rising prices are a problem and vowed to crack down on those who flout the rules of competition. «We never underestimated the fact that prices are rising,» Development Minister Dimitris Sioufas told reporters yesterday, following a meeting he and his deputies, Yiannis Papathanassiou and Giorgos Salagoudis, had with Prime Minister Costas Karamanlis. Papathanassiou revealed data which showed that last month authorities were informed of price rises in 1,467 goods, averaging 2.89 percent. The figures, he said, compare favorably with the period December 2003-January 2004 when rises in 1,388 goods had averaged 5.92 percent, «despite the freeze in prices and the ‘gentlemen’s agreements’ reached under the previous government.» The current government, which took over last March, had been critical of its predecessor’s efforts to control inflation, saying that ensuring fair competition would be enough. However, following a raft of price rises ahead of last summer’s Olympics, its tone changed significantly. Sioufas’s statements were in tune with this more interventionist approach; he said he was trying to confront inflation with stricter inspections, heavier fines for excessive charging as well as sending the culprits to court. Sioufas also added that more powers to intervene had been given to the Competition Commission. Having referred to the difficulties faced by the markets due to big oil price hikes earlier in the year, he remarked that inspections for inflated prices are being made on a daily basis and that «the state and the ministry are merciless toward those who attempt price-gouging.» The prime minister and ministers also discussed other priority efforts that the Development Ministry will undertake this year. These include the further development of the natural gas sector, where the government will encourage enterprises and households to adopt natural gas use in order to cut energy costs; greater funds for research and technology in order to promote growth; and an emphasis on balanced development by promoting business in regions outside Attica.