MPs grill minister over steep prices

HARARE - Members of Parliament (MPs) have questioned government’s commitment to end the current economic crisis which has seen shops sharply increasing prices of basic consumer goods on the back of foreign currency shortages and rising fuel prices.

On Wednesday, Industry minister Mike Bimha told the National Assembly that government had got to the root of the problem and had put measures to curb profiteering and unwarranted price increases.

Led by John Holder, Zanu PF MP for Zvishavane-Ngezi, legislators accused government of taking too long to address the current crisis.

“What policy has government put in place to protect hyperinflation now that all the commodities in the shops have gone up by almost 100 percent?” asked Holder.

Bimha blamed the panic buying by consumers last month on social media and fake news.

“As a result of these unsubstantiated reports or information, there was panic buying and this panic buying also had an effect of causing shortages.

“In the confusion, we also had other unscrupulous wholesalers, retailers and manufacturers also taking advantage of this.

“Now, what government has done in order to address this issue is two-fold.  Firstly, Cabinet has put together a task force which is chaired by my ministry to look into the issue of price escalations as well as the availability of basic commodities.

“This Inter-Ministerial Task Force is guided by very comprehensive terms of reference going further than issues of price or availability of products, going into the whole issue of the availability of forex, issues to do with the cost of money; others also looking through the Competition and Tariff Commission, and collusive and anti-competitive tendencies by suppliers.

“There is a whole breath of issues that this committee is looking into,” said Bimha.

However, Bimha’s response did not go down well with Holder.

“The reason why I called for a supplementary question is, I understood what the minister said but here we are living on reality and the reality is that the prices of commodities in any shop have gone up.

“Currently, as I speak, all vegetables and other stuff have been banned from importation.

“I am saying, what mechanism has he put in place?  What are they going to do now because it is affecting everybody here?” Holder asked further.

“My ministry has been having inspectors around all the provinces in the country who have been monitoring the price escalations from the 24th  of September to date to ensure that we have facts when we approach the producers.

“So, we now have information of what has been happening as regards prices and issues that we will have to engage the retailers, producers and wholesalers.

“We can only do that when we have information and that information is now available,” Bimha responded amid boos from parliamentarians.

MPs openly told Bimha that the government is not showing concern over the issue.           

“I hope that the minister realises that by accepting there is hyper-inflation which is caused by political instability and inflation is due to mere economics. So, it is clear that he has admitted that there is political instability.

“With that in mind, how does he intend to address this situation because hyper-inflation is a result of political instability? How then is he going to respond to the political instability which is there so that there is no hyper-inflation,” weighed in Norton Independent MP, Temba Mliswa.

Last month, analysts issued a fresh warning that Zimbabwe was on the cusp of experiencing another economic disaster similar to the meltdown of 2008 when local inflation hit world record levels and supermarket shelves went empty for months on end.

This followed the re-emergence of long fuel queues, as well as worsening shortages of cash, drugs and basic goods — which has seen panicking Zimbabweans stampeding to hoard these commodities.

Since then, prices of basic commodities have soared while most garages continue to receive erratic fuel supplies on the back of worsening foreign currency shortages.

Zimbabwe is currently in the grip of a severe economic crisis which has seen banks running out of bond notes and United States dollars which have completely disappeared from the formal market.

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