Cash dealers invade fuel service stations

The practice of selling cash has now spread into the fuel sector as the liquidity crunch continues to dog the Zimbabwean economy, a survey by Standardbusiness has revealed.

BY TATIRA ZWINOIRA

Investigations established there is a growing number of cash dealers buying and selling fuel coupons.

The survey conducted in Harare’s central business district showed that cash dealers were serving two groups of people; those seeking cash and motorists looking for cheap fuel.

The transactions are being done on a cash basis.

At a Puma fuel station located along Second Street, Standardbusiness saw three coupon traders — Lameck, Joe and Gashi — who buy and sell Puma fuel coupons at discounted rates.

Fuel coupons come from individuals while others are obtained through back deals involving some employees who work at Puma.

Petrol coupons sell for an average $1,10 per litre while diesel goes for as little as $0,90, said Joe. Puma’s retail price for the fuel is $1,30 and $1,18 per litre for petrol and diesel respectively.

The cash dealers sold fuel at $1,25/litre for petrol and $1/litre for diesel.

Gashi said they moved from fuel station to fuel station, sometimes going to Zuva Petroleum outlets, but they mainly operated from Puma service station.

Those seeking cash for their fuel coupons were coming every 10 to 15 minutes compared to individuals seeking to buy fuel who approached the dealers every 20 to 25 minutes. However, on some days the amount of time that passes by for both cash seekers and motorists to approach these cash dealers is much less.

Further into the CBD at a Maps Petroleum fuel outlet located along Nelson Mandela Avenue, a cash dealer called Ishe and two colleagues buy fuel coupons at the same rates, with the difference being the selling price.

Ishe sells petrol at $1,20/litre and $1/litre for diesel.

Ishe said they were buying and selling coupons from individuals who had fuel coupons from Maps Petroleum. At Maps, the fuel retails at $1,29 and $1,18 per litre for petrol and diesel respectively.

The country has an estimated daily consumption of 4 million litres of fuel. Fuel importation is listed under priority one on the central bank’s foreign exchange priority list.

Despite getting top priority, operators have struggled to import the fuel as the central bank has to play a juggling act in allocating foreign currency.

The country requires an average of $100 million per month to import fuel.

Cash dealers are seeing an opportunity as they buy fuel for cash and resell at a higher price. These dealers can also be found at Petrotrade and Zuva fuel stations.

The only fuel stations the cash dealers are not found are those that do not sell coupons.

Petroleum product prices are currently determined in accordance with Statutory Instrument 80 of 2014, which provides the framework for the pricing of fuel.

There are 491 licensed fuel retailers in the country.

As of Wednesday, fuel was averaging $1,29/litre and $1,16/litre for petrol and diesel respectively. In the past two weeks, fuel prices have been unstable and fluctuating but going downwards.

The Zimbabwe Energy Regulatory Authority CEO Gloria Magombo said the regulator was unaware of such cash-selling practices. She said the occurrence of such a practice could have involved dealers seeking cash.

Economists have warned the cash-selling business which is fast on the rise was a huge risk to individuals who were losing money in search of cash which could lead to inflation.

Inflation rises when every dollar an individual owns buys a smaller percentage of goods or services. With cash selling causing individuals to buy cash at a lower rate, this may lead to inflation.

Economist John Robertson said cash selling was a result of a lack of liquidity and that government needed to re-structure in order to borrow money to deal with the current shortages.

“The lenders feel if they lend us now, they will never get it back so we have to change that and we can only do that by changing the policies. If we begin to receive investment capital, we would see a great improvement in our liquidity. We are not getting this done with the current policies,” Robertson said.

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