By Alois Vinga
VICE President Kembo Mohadi says fuel station operators and retailers found selling their products in foreign currency risked having their business licences revoked by government.
His remarks follow a week long pricing frenzy by businesses trying to match the shelf value of their commodities and services with the much-sought after US dollar, which is now almost four times stronger than the local currency.
This is according to black market rates which have become defacto regulators of the strength of the local currency against other currencies.
However, VP Mohadi saw everything wrong with those who were increasing prices of their goods with threats which were almost akin to a government attempt to impose price controls.
“Anyone pricing above these regulated fuel prices is doing so illegally,” Mohadi told the media on Tuesday.
“Price monitors are on the ground monitoring the situation. All those caught selling fuel at prices not approved by Zera (Zimbabwe Energy Regulatory Authority) and those service stations either demanding payment in hard currency or engaging in other untoward trading practices will have their licenses revoked,” said the VP.
However, economist Aeneas Chuma said the warning will not achieve anything positive.
“Government is just displaying its ignorance of market forces because what is happening currently is in line with economic dynamics.
“The market must regulate itself naturally. So, government cannot regulate prices,” he said.
The increase in the prices of commodities and services accelerated in the past one week with a single unit of the much-sought after US dollar exchanging for an RTGS $3.60 in local currency.
Petrol on the black market is currently being sold at $12 for a 5 litre container while a 2l bottle of cooking oil now requires around $12, up from just under $3 some few weeks ago.
The Zimbabwe Energy Regulatory Authority has maintained that fuel must never be sold at inflated prices as the industry was well supplied with some foreign currency by the central bank.
Gazetted prices are below $1,45 per litre for both petrol and diesel.
Similarly, cooking oil manufacturer Surface Wilmar Monday issued a statement claiming that cooking oil was still being distributed to wholesalers and retailers at usual prices while distancing itself from the current pricing chaos.
However, Confederation of Zimbabwe Retailers president, Denford Mutashu on Monday defended the decision to hike retail prices saying retailers also needed some capital to remain afloat.
Mutashu reserved some blame for Finance Minister Mthuli Ncube’s recent decision to downgrade local bank balances to Zimbabwean dollars when the central bank had in the past told the transacting public their monies were at par with the US dollar.