By Staff Reporter & Agencies
RESERVE Bank of Zimbabwe (RBZ governor John Mangudya has blamed the new 2 percent tax on electronic money transfers for a worsening fuel supply crisis despite a cabinet minister claiming the country has enough stocks.
Queues have increasingly become a common sight at service stations across the country adding to the grief of Zimbabweans also burdened by increases in the prices of basic commodities just two months after the crunch July 30 elections.
Mangudya told Reuters that the fuel shortages had been caused by the introduction of a 2 percent tax on electronic payments last Monday, which meant oil firms would incur weekly bank charges of $400,000 for fuel imports but were not allowed to pass the cost to consumers.
The companies had stopped supplying fuel as a result, Mangudya said, but he added the situation would improve in the next 48 hours because the government on Friday night scrapped the tax on foreign payments.
“The problem is that we did not explain things. This economy is a sentiment-driven economy, so we need to communicate more with the society,” he said.
However, energy minister Jorum Gumbo claimed that the current shortages were “artificial” and down to needless panic buying.
The country, Gumbo said, adequate stocks at Msasa and Mabvuku depots in Harare while the Feruka pipeline continues to pump in more supplies from Beira in Mozambique.
“The sporadic fuel stock-out at service stations are being caused by a number of factors that include foreign currency shortages and panic buying by motorists, resulting from false social media messages,” Gumbo told the Sunday Mail.
“Once oil companies get the foreign currency from the Reserve Bank, they have to plan for the logistics of getting the fuel to their service stations and that at times causes delays at service stations far from Harare.
“Also, international oil prices are rising and that means that the foreign currency the RBZ allocates to fuel companies that is around $20 million — amounting to 80 million litres a month — is no longer adequate.”
Zimbabwe dumped its hyperinflation-wrecked currency in favour of the U.S. dollar in 2009 but a shortage of cash dollars has worsened following a disputed election won by President Emmerson Mnangagwa in July.
Fuel queues started building up this past week and on Saturday outlets in Harare had either run out or had long queues as drivers patiently waited for their turn to fill up their tanks.
“I have been here for an hour because the queue is moving slowly. I have no choice because I need the petrol,” said one motorist, who identified himself as Pascal, at a service station in the Avondale suburb in Harare.
At some outlets owned by Total, attendants only served motorists with pre-paid cards. Other outlets refused mobile payments, preferring bank cards and cash.
Meanwhile, Zimbabweans were also stocking up on basic goods like rice, cooking oil, sugar and juice.
At some branches owned by Zimbabwe’s biggest grocery chain OK Zimbabwe, management limited sales of sugar, cooking oil and a popular local juice.
“Management reserves the right to limit quantities,” read a notice to customers.
A shortage of U.S. dollars in banks has forced importers to purchase them on the black market, which has pushed up premiums and the price of imports.
On the black market, the premium for the U.S. dollar spiked to a new record on Saturday, reaching 165 percent from 120 percent on Monday, traders said.
That means buying $100 in cash via a bank transfer cost $265, up from $220 earlier this week.