FUEL retailers could be hoarding fuel for speculative purposes or diverting the commodity to either the black market or service stations that sell in foreign currency amid revelations they drew down in excess of 31 million litres from the National Oil Infrastructure Company of Zimbabwe (NOIC) in the seven days to February 27, it has been learnt.
On average, the companies accessed 4,4 million litres per day between February 20 and February 27, against a daily demand of five million litres for both petrol and diesel, raising concern that the situation on the ground reflected severe shortages but supplies had improved significantly.
A series of emergency inter-agency meetings involving the Zimbabwe Republic Police (ZRP), the Zimbabwe Revenue Authority (Zimra), Zimbabwe Energy Regulatory Authority (Zera), Special Anti-Corruption Unit in the Office of the President and Cabinet (SACU) and NOIC were held yesterday to get to the bottom of the shortages.
NOIC said yesterday it was “surprised” by the obtaining acute fuel shortages, particularly at a time when it had ramped up supplies.
SACU head Mr Tabani Mpofu has since written to the Zimbabwe Anti-Corruption Commission (ZACC) indicating that from the available evidence, it was “reasonable” to infer that “the shortage has been caused by acts of corruption perpetrated by fuel suppliers seeking to profiteer”.
“The fuel situation in the market remains dire; there being no evidence of any impact in the market of the significant quantities of fuel that have been disbursed to retailers according to NOIC figures.
“Most service stations throughout the country are not retailing fuel, with a few that are doing so experiencing long, winding queues of motorists seeking the commodity,” read part of the letter gleaned by The Sunday Mail.
“In the absence of a solid explanation based on evidence, the only reasonable inference to be drawn from the status quo in the fuel market is that the shortage has been caused by acts of corruption perpetrated by fuel suppliers to profiteer.”
There is a real possibility that actors in the fuel supply chain, he added, are colluding to create artificial shortages that are detrimental to the economy and the country’s stability.
The letter was copied to the Chief Secretary to the President and Cabinet, Dr Misheck Sibanda; Secretary for Justice, Legal and Parliamentary Affairs, Mrs Virginia Mabiza; National Prosecuting Authority (NPA) Prosecutor-General Mr Kumbirai Hodzi; and ZRP Commissioner-General Godwin Matanga.
Motorists are spending hours in fuel queues for a chance to access fuel.
NOIC chair Engineer Mckenzie Ncube told The Sunday Mail that Government wanted to establish the real cause of the problem.
“We are trying to put a finger as to where the problem is; we want the real cause of the fuel shortages, whether it is sabotage or someone is trying to play games,” he said.
Statistics obtained from NOIC show that on February 20 2020, fuel retailers collected 1,7 million litres of petrol and 2,6 million litres of diesel, while on February 21 2020, 5,2 million litres of both petrol and diesel were released onto the market.
On February 27, fuel retailers also drew down 4,9 million litres.
Cumulatively, the figures adds up to 31,4 million litres in the seven-day period.
Comparatively, for the seven days between February 10 2020 and February 16 2020, retailers accessed 22,5 million litres of fuel, which is 8,9 million litres less than the quantity accessed last week.
Some industry players believe some retailers authorised to sell in foreign currency may be opening up opportunities for arbitrage.
There is an ongoing push from some quarters to scrap the dispensation, which was designed to improve fuel supplies through allowing operators with access to free funds to bring in their own fuel and sell in forex.
There are questions whether Zera has robust monitoring mechanisms to ensure that fuel accessed from NOIC is not sold in foreign currency.
Energy and Power Development Minister Fortune Chasi could not comment as he referred questions to Zera acting chief executive Mr Eddington Mazambani, who did not respond to several phone calls since Friday.
Local fuel shortages come at a time when petrol prices were upwardly reviewed by 12 cents to $18,40, while diesel prices dropped by $2,27 to $17,28 per litre.
Petrol, however, is retailing between US$1,20 and US$1,25 on the black market.
Global oil prices were poised to fall to below US$50 a barrel — the lowest in four years — as global trade slows down owing to the spread of the deadly coronavirus disease.
Indigenous Petroleum Association of Zimbabwe (IPAZ) chair Mr Aaron Chinhara said he no longer talked to the media as they were all “captured”.