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Prices of basics remain high

PRICES of basic commodities have remained high in Zimbabwe as businesses continue defying a recent directive by President Emmerson Mnangagwa to stop unnecessary price increases, a survey conducted by Standardbusiness has revealed.

BY MTHANDAZO NYONI

A snap survey last week in Bulawayo established that prices of basic commodities are still high and beyond the reach of many.

The survey noted that almost all basic commodities — whose prices shot up on September 23 following a price madness triggered by panicbuying — never reverted to their original low prices.

Some were only adjusted downwards by small percentages while others remained the same or increased.

For instance, before the September 23 panic-buying period, 2kg flour was going for $1,75 and it increased to $2,10. Now it costs $2,20.

The same goes for rice.

Before September 23, a 2kg packet of rice was selling at $1,80 and it now costs $2,99.

Slight decreases in prices were noted in cooking oil and meat. As indicated in the table above, prices of other basic commodities remained the same or increased. The general observation is that prices of basic commodities are still high in Zimbabwe despite government’s intervention.

On September 23, 2017 consumers went into panic-buying amid reports on social media that the country was heading for debilitating shortages. This triggered a massive increase of prices of basic commodities with some going up by more than 100%.

The price of meat rose sharply, with a kilogramme of beef and chicken going for as much as $10 and $14 respectively. A crate of eggs rose from about $4,50 to around $7 and has remained the same to date. Only beef and chicken prices have gone down.

In a bid to stabilise the pricing regime and curb illegal price increases, government in November placed 16 basic commodities under a pricing and availability monitoring list to normalise macro-economic indicators.

The hedged items included cooking oil, mealie-meal, bread, flour, sugar, rice, salt, chicken, eggs, beef, fresh milk, laundry soaps and washing powder, among other products.

But the Consumer Council of Zimbabwe (CCZ) as well as other organisations who spoke to Standardbusiness last week said prices of basic commodities were still high.

“We are realising that prices [of basic commodities] are still high. As CCZ, we are carrying out surveys on a weekly basis and we find there is little stability of prices but they haven’t gone down to September 22 prices, before the panic-buying. Our wish was that they would go to the original prices,” CCZ Matabeleland regional manager Comfort Muchekeza said.

Bulawayo United Residents’ Association chairperson Winos Dube appealed to government to intervene and stem the tide.

“Prices are still very high and we are actually asking the relevant authorities to look into the issue because this is not sustainable. They are out of this world and we wonder where we are heading to,” Dube said.

“Look at things like Mazoe [fruit concentrate] they are now unaffordable to many. What is surprising is that some of the products are manufactured locally. If you compare foreign products against local ones, you will find that foreign products are cheaper. We are then told we should buy Zimbabwe yet the products being made here are too expensive. How can we do that?”

Dube said even the price of mealie-meal was still high despite the country boasting of a bumper harvest.

Confederation of Zimbabwe Retailers’ president Denford Mutashu, however, said prices had been stabilising.

“The generality of prices have been steady. We have seen some going down and others going up, but not because of profiteering. On rice, I think you are aware that as a country we are not growing rice and it’s all imported,” Mutashu said.

He said due to foreign currency shortage in the country as well as high demand of the product, the price of rice has been going up.

To address the issue of prices, Mutashu said on April 19, 2018 they were looking forward to hosting a price stabilisation strategy indaba.

“We need to strike a balance between viability and stability,” he said.

He called on the Reserve Bank of Zimbabwe to be transparent on foreign currency allocation as the retail sector was being left out.

He said there was need for the country to have a strong foreign currency reserve to cushion industry.

On the parallel market, the survey found that some products are selling at lower prices compared to formal retailers.

Most of the products available on the parallel market are imported or smuggled. These include cooking oil, shoe polish, washing powder, bathing soap and baked beans, among others.

Efforts to get comment from Industry, Commerce and Enterprise Development minister Mike Bimha were fruitless as his cellphone went unanswered.

His permanent secretary, Abigail Shonhiwa, promised to look into the matter and revert, but she had not done so by the time of going to print.

“Yes, we would be aware; we do get regular information on that. I will need to call for that information. We get input from CCZ besides the ministry of Industry officials who are on the ground. I am just coming to my office. I was out all morning (due to meetings). Let me look at what is on my desk and perhaps talk to you later,” she said.

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