The Ministry of Commerce on April 27 responded to criticism that allowing private vendors to sell essential goods at designated locations would run contrary to government preventive health measures – which prohibit gatherings – to stem the spread Covid-19.
Senior Grassroots Democratic Party (GDP) official Yang Saing Koma has called on the ministry to set up booths for private vendors in lockdown areas.
His appeal came on the heels of Phnom Penh Municipal Hall's April 23 directive dictating that all state-owned markets and other improvised ones – such as those that sprawl near factories, hospitals and residential areas – throughout the capital shut for 14 days effective through May 7.
Saing Koma called on the commerce ministry to establish places for wholesale agricultural products inbound from the provinces so that traders can earn an income during the movement curbs.
This, he noted, would provide opportunities for small business owners, most of whom he noted live “from hand to mouth”. He likened the potential vending posts to “a pot for cooking rice”.
He added: "In my opinion, the [commerce] ministry should focus on supporting vendors so that they can run their businesses well, at a suitable location to receive a smooth supply of agricultural products from various sources and sales transactions in accordance with good health principles.
“Sharing responsibilities and mutual assistance between the state and the people has led us to combat Covid-19 successfully."
The ministry on April 27 said allowing private vendors to sell on a small scale at designated locations would “likely reopen markets”, which it noted could pose a high-risk source of infection that could add fuel to the spread of Covid-19.
While it said it welcomes open, constructive feedback, the ministry noted that the spread of false information and offensive comments has hindered ministerial activities towards facilitating the sale, supply, transportation and distribution of essential food and groceries to the people in red zones.
It added that these activities are its duties and are carried out in accordance with Royal Government Instruction No 01, dated April 19.
The ministry explained that its provision of food for sale through its Green Trade Company's (GTC) mobile units comes in response to the temporary closures of a bunch of markets and food and beverage outlets as a measure to prevent the spread of Covid-19.
“The ministry has released eight mobile units and set up a total of 11 stalls with 25 booths to stabilise commodity prices as well as curb price surges caused by a handful of crooks that use this opportunity to increase prices” and attract other nefarious individuals, it said.
At the same time, the ministry has assigned its officials to continue to monitor and trace market price indices on a regular basis to prevent quality scams and inflated prices, and to advise traders to put price tags on products and refrain from arbitrary price changes beyond pre-lockdown ranges.
The ministry encouraged the public to report fraudulent price hikes to relevant authorities or ministerial units or officials stationed at the stalls to take timely action.
It said it has also coordinated with some private companies and traders to supply other essential goods to the people.
“In this coordination, the Ministry of Commerce has limited sales to only the most basic goods, such as chicken, fish, meat, vegetables, fruits, baby food and other dried foods, at reasonable prices, and requires sales to be made in an orderly fashion, in accordance with protective measures of the Ministry of Health,” it said.
Commerce ministry secretary of state Pen Sovicheat told The Post that the ministry's move to dispatch mobile units to red zones and set up stalls there is a timely response to the food needs of the people in the restricted areas.
He described the ministry as a “facilitator” in distributing food to the people, under the guidance of the government, and ensuring stability and adequate food supply in this difficult period.
"I would like to tell people not to confuse mobile units selling food with government vehicles distributing food to those without it," he said.
The ministry, through its GTC, sold 72.6 tonnes of milled rice, as well as a handful of other essential food products to people in designated red zones in the five days from April 22-26.
It said it sold 1,452 50kg sacks of milled rice, 4,283 boxes of instant noodles, 2,803 packs of canned fish, 1,161 cases of fish sauce, 1,097 cases of soy sauce, 230 packs of bottled drinking water, 602 2kg bags of chhay pov – or sun-dried preserved daikon radishes – and “some vegetables” during that time.