Task force to scrutinize prices

The government will appoint a task force to monitor the market for excessive price hikes in a bid to tame inflation, which jumped to a 10-year high last month, Development Minister Christos Folias said yesterday. Folias said the team will be given the task of keeping an eye on the market and imposing fines when a business has been caught going overboard with price hikes. «It will have a monitoring and price-checking role so that at any time we will be aware of the real situation in the market,» said the minister after a Cabinet meeting chaired by Premier Costas Karamanlis. The task force will be staffed by current Development Ministry inspectors who will coordinate with the Finance Ministry and prefectures. Staff with specialized knowledge will be put on the task force, which will also be offered higher remuneration to avoid the temptation of turning a blind eye to excessive prices in return for under-the-table payments, according to a ministry source. It was not clear when the new task force will hit the streets. Greece’s consumer inflation rate jumped 4.9 percent year-on-year in May, the highest level in about 10 years, due to rising food and oil prices. On a European Union level, inflation soared to its highest level in 16 years in May, hitting 3.7 percent from 3.3 percent in April. Economists attribute much of the blame for excessive price hikes in Greece on companies that realize massive profits, taking advantage of their dominant market position. Industrialists’ union group SEV said that the main culprit for the high inflation is the government, since it fails to deregulate markets and open them up to competition. «The reality, which is systematically covered up, is that the state itself is the first and basic cause of high prices,» said SEV in a statement. [email protected]