The Sunday News
Dumisani Nsingo, Senior Business Reporter
THE Government, working with other agencies has unleashed monitors to track the movement and selling of subsided mealie-meal as concerns grow over the continued channelling of the commodity to the black market.
It has also emerged that some retail shops, after receiving subsided mealie meal, will instead of selling it to the public, use it to cook isitshwala/sadza and sell to customers at their “restaurant” sections.
Sunday News discovered that some of the shops also work with informal traders who get first preference and “loot” the commodity and sell it on the streets and makeshift shops for cash.
The Government announced a mealie-meal subsidy to cushion the general public, resulting in retailers being compelled to sell a 10 kilogramme bag at $50.
However, despite constant supply, the subsidised mealie-meal is rarely found in most shops but is readily available on the black market where it is sold for between $70 and $75 in cash only. In Bulawayo, the mealie-meal is readily availed at the vegetable market area in the city centre.
The development has seen long queues in major retail shops in the city centre on occasions when the subsidised mealie-meal is sold.
Both the Ministry of Industry and Commerce and the Confederation of Zimbabwe Retailers confirmed yesterday that they were on the ground and shops found on the wrong side of the law will be blacklisted.
“The Ministry of Industry and Commerce is also working closely with the Confederation of Retailers Association of Zimbabwe and the president, Mr (Denford) Mutashu has assured that in order to protect the consumer they are monitoring the retail shops to ensure that mealie-meal is not only available but is also sold at the subsidised price of $50 per 10kg and is distributed to all Zimbabweans fairly,” Industry and Commerce Minister Dr Sekai Nzenza said in a statement released to Sunday News. CZR president Mr Mutashu said the association was visiting some of its members to see how they were selling the commodity.
“We are working together with the ministry to monitor the movement of mealie-meal, roller meal to be specific from the time it leaves the miller up to the time the retailer receives it. So, we are working on a joint programme where we also engage grain millers.
“Also, on our part basically what we will be doing we will also visit some millers to check on accountability and also visit some of the retailers and wholesalers to check on transparency, on how they are selling the mealie meal to the public.
“We will also come up with a monitoring system by designing a form that the miller will enter the quantities that they have dispatched. They will indicate the store that the mealie-meal will be delivered to and the store will also fill-up (a form) to confirm receipt of same quantities, just to make sure we remove the blame game (between the two parties) that has been going on before. We will know if there is side marketing of the product in a locality. We can easily identify that it is either the retailer, wholesaler, trader or it is the miller who has diverted the product but so far we are basing our trust in ensuring that we are all in for the people to benefit out of our actions and ensure fair distribution of the product across the country,” he said.
Mr Mutashu said it has come to their attention that management at a number of shops were deliberately diverting the mealie-meal to the black market without shop owners’ consent.
“We have also identified that in some areas there were some malpractices that do not involve the owner of the store but involved managers who divert the product without the knowledge of the owner. For most of the formal big chain stores it is very easy to check because they have in their system a list of bags that they would have sold in their till just like the system that Zimra (Zimbabwe Revenue Authority) has implemented in collecting revenue through the fiscalisation device.
“So the store system can be used to pick the number of bags, which could have gone through every till and from that end we can easily go to a retailer, request a stock sheet that highlights the number of bags received and sold and you can also be able to pick where the manager or store has sold more than the expected quantity to an individual trader or individual customer, so these are some of the issues that we have discussed and agreed with the Minister, Dr Nzenza,” he said.
Mr Mutashu said any retailer and miller found liable to any malpractice would be black-listed from receiving supplies.
“We have also agreed with the millers that a retailer who will be found wanting will not receive the commodity. The retailer will be black-listed while the millers have also confirmed to us that if a miller has been found side marketing the product, that miller will also be black-listed and will not receive the grain. These are some of the areas that we feel if we work together as a country, we can be able to ensure that mealie-meal as a subsidised product and key to food security gets to the people of Zimbabwe,” he said.
Zimbabwe’s annual maize consumption stands at 1,8 million tonnes and by October this year, the country needed 800 000 tonnes to cover a gap in maize supplies until the next harvest. In September last year the country took delivery of the first batch of the 17 000 tonnes of the 100 000 tonnes of maize imported from Tanzania that Government paid for as part of its efforts to alleviate food shortages brought about by the drought.
However, there has been a critical shortage of mealie-meal in the country with Government attributing it to failure by some companies to deliver, leading to panic buying and hoarding.
“However, this has since been resolved as Government is augmenting local production with maize grain imports. As of yesterday, the Ministry verified with GMB (Grain Marketing Board) that maize grain is available. The import deliveries have been coming on a daily basis and are expected to alleviate the mealie-meal shortage,” said Dr Nzenza.
Independent consumer rights organisation, National Consumer Rights Association (Nacora) advocacy advisor, Mr Effie Ncube said reports of hoarding and over pricing of mealie-meal by some unscrupulous businesses was tantamount to unethical business conduct, urging the Government to institute an investigation and bring the perpetrators to book.