Cletus Mushanawani Senior Writer
A cross-section of Zimbabweans has urged authorities to deal ruthlessly with those abusing taxpayers’ money and depriving the market of subsidised commodities through hoarding or diversion to the black market.
While the Government continues to spend large amounts of money on subsidies in the public transport sector, fuel and maize, very few people that are meant to benefit are doing so as organised cartels are capitalising on the shortages to make super profits.
Maize-meal has overnight become a treasured commodity and truckers who transport copper from northern Zambia and the Democratic Republic of Congo are alleged to be part of the smuggling racket.
Appearing before Parliamentary Portfolio Committee on Lands, Agriculture, Water, Climate and Rural Settlement last week, small and medium-scale millers accused bigger operators of abusing the subsidised grain by smuggling it to neighbouring countries.
“I do not have the evidence, but I can point you in the right direction where you can find evidence of maize going to the Democratic Republic of Congo. It is subsidised maize that is being given to us by the Government to provide food for the country, but not being used for that purpose, it’s for something else,” said Mr Brands managing director, Mr Wayne Moss.
United Milling Company director Mr Davis Muhambi said smuggling of maize meal was rampant.
“We suspect that when the trucks, which carry copper from the north in Zambia and DRC offload their cargo in South Africa, they come back empty and they get to the border where their manifest is stamped to appear as if they have cargo, which is maize from South Africa.
“They come through Harare, pick up the maize, go to DRC exit Chirundu with maize, which is subsidised by the Government,” he said.
Last weekend, police swooped on National Foods Limited and Blue Ribbon Industries, while two retailers were arrested in Highfield and Mufakose after anomalies were noted in the selling of the subsidised roller-meal.
Commenting on Twitter, United Refineries chief executive Mr Busisa Moyo, called for stiffer penalties on saboteurs.
“The subsidised maize is from taxpayers’ money and it is valued at US$450 000. That is quite a stash. We demand that the maize reach vulnerable consumers. An example must be set. I have it on good ground that some of the maize is benefiting Zambia, a vibrant economy that does not need it,” wrote Mr Moyo.
Coalition of Democracy leader, Mr Dereck Lupamba said Government must be ruthless on corruption.
“The issue of subsidised maize-meal finding its way to the black market is a cause for concern. While Government is making concerted efforts to address the challenges being faced by the majority by introducing subsidies where necessary, we still have heartless individuals driven by greed who divert these to the black market.
“Government must be ruthless on corruption. It must always complete the investigations, arrest, convict and recover cycle. Many a times this cycle is not being completed and perpetrators of this heinous crime are increasingly becoming aware of it. At the end of the day, it defeats the whole purpose of bringing such criminals to book. This also affects public confidence,” said Mr Lupamba.
He said maize-meal should be a classified commodity and anyone found selling it above the stipulated price should be arrested and the product confiscated.
“I once stayed in a country which was under sanctions and experiencing shortages of basic commodities, but introduced an effective coupon system which worked very well. This should be implemented here in Zimbabwe,” he said.
Confederation of Zimbabwe Retailers Association president, Mr Denford Mutashu bemoaned indiscipline among some of his members and also called for the prosecution of all offenders.
“We have been carrying our educational awareness programmes among our members to ensure compliance, but it seems we have some who continue defying directives. Drastic measures should be taken so that consumers are not ripped-off. They must face the music because the subsidised products should reach the deserving recipients.
“Business especially CZI should also monitor its members because this issue of hoarding of the subsidised roller-meal is counterproductive,” he said.
Commenting online, a reader, Truthhearts wrote: “Police should have confiscated all the maize-meal these Shylocks had and gave it for free to members of the public who are forced to stand in tortuous queues. Ours is the only economy where these greedy businesspeople see the customer not as a king but doormats!”
A resident who was queuing for maize-meal in Queensdale, Harare yesterday, Ms Shamiso Chakandinakira said she also wanted to see all those hoarding maize-meal brought to book.
“I have been in this queue since morning, but chaos is the order of the day. We have suffered enough at the hands of those hoarding the subsidised roller-meal and they should be charged. Government should have no mercy on these people.
“We know that things are bad, but Government is trying its best to cushion us. We are our own enemies as some of us are actively participating in channelling the roller-meal onto the black market by hoping from one queue to the other buying the same commodity for resale,” she said.