via Mavhaire ordered to shape up | The Financial Gazette by Clemence Manyukwe 16 Jan 2014
Development Minister Dzikamai Mavhaire has walked into a storm because of policy inconsistencies after flip-flopping over ethanol blending thresholds, the Financial Gazette can exclusively reveal.The Energy Minister has infuriated the presidium which is desperate to achieve a modicum of policy consistency and certainty required to inspire confidence in the country’s economy after making a U-turn on ethanol blending levels announced hardly five months ago.
Mavhaire who once spent in the political wilderness after falling out with the powers-that-be bounced back into President Robert Mugabe’s Cabinet after the July 31, 2013 polls only to be met with a deteriorating energy situation.
He first touched a raw nerve when he announced a fuel blending threshold of 10 percent, before increasing it to 15 percent, against professional advice brought before him.
The former Masvingo governor was then forced to eat humble pie in spite of having indicated through a Government Gazette that the benchmark would be raised to 20 percent by March.
His prevarication has triggered the ire of stakeholders in the fuel sector who fear that this could plunge the landlocked country into serious fuel shortages.
Mavhaire’s running of the energy sector and the resultant prevarication has caused considerable unease in government, which has long faced accusations that its policy inconsistencies have been the driving force behind a prolonged recession. In terms of government’s new economic blueprint, the Zimbabwe Agenda for Sustainable Social-Economic Transformation, any policy inconsistencies is being discouraged.
In his National Budget presented in Parliament last month, Finance Minister Patrick Chinamasa, said the days of policy inconsistences were over.
Chinamasa is said to be among Cabinet ministers peeved by Mavhaire’s failure to be far sighted when he gazetted the blending thresholds.
The Financial Gazette also has it on good authority that Acting President Joice Mujuru has since expressed her displeasure with Mavhaire before directing him to put his house in order.
While acknowledging talking to Mujuru over the issue, Mavhaire declined to divulge the details of their conversation after being contacted for comment.
“I cannot reveal to anybody details of my conversation with the Acting Head of State. Please, please, please,” said Mavhaire.
On October 16 last year, Mavhaire approved the Mandatory Statutory Instrument 147A, setting out the timetable for mandatory blending of anhydrous ethanol with unleaded petrol, and the relevant technical specifications.
The regulations stipulated that the commencement date for blending was October 23, 2013 for ethanol blend grade E10; November 30, 2013 for grade E15 and March 31, 2014 for grade E20.
But this week, Mavhaire announced that he had relaxed the mandatory blending rules, pegging it at E10 indefinitely. In his statement, the minister said “the blending of petrol with ethanol has been progressing very well until recently” when sugarcane shortages were encountered.
Sources said the sugarcane shortages had threatened fuel shortages which led the Acting President to order Mavhaire to ensure that the country was not plunged into a crisis.
Interestingly, a complainant in a case in which former energy minister Elton Mangoma was probed for possible abuse of office during his tenure has written to Mavhaire warning him that he might be digging a political grave over the issue.
Patrick Chiremba alleged that the Zimbabwe Energy Regulatory Authority (ZERA) board was working against Mavhaire as its allegiance still rested with Mangoma.
ZERA is understood to have previously warned government against higher percentages of blending.
“Energy is a sensitive area. Be careful you may be going down with the board and its officials. Why should you make that sacrifice on these people’s behalf?” asked Chiremba who previously sued Mangoma on grounds that the ZERA board was not properly constituted.
“Do you remember the NOOR fuel deal which got Mangoma arrested and the role the former secretary in the deal (played)? Please confirm from the system otherwise you could be digging your own political grave.”
Mangoma was acquitted in court for any wrong doing in the botched US$5 million fuel deal entered into with NOOR Petroleum during the life of the inclusive government.
ZERA chief executive officer, Gloria Magombo, requested that questions be put to her in writing concerning the advice they gave Mavhaire on mandatory blending and allegations that they were still working with Mangoma.
Meanwhile, Mangoma has since submitted a supporting affidavit to the Constitutional Court in an application that seeks to make mandatory blending a nullity.
In his affidavit, Mangoma is arguing that any blending beyond E10 was bad for the country, adding that catalytic converters must be applied to most vehicles to assist in the blending process.
“I confirm again out of an abundance of caution that in my capacity as minister of energy, I received so many reports including one from the University of Zimbabwe, the other being a study carried out on fuel in Malawi and I have gained sufficient knowledge to call myself an expert on this matter. I confirm that I am willing to give any further evidence that may assist this honourable court,” said Mangoma in his affidavit.
Yesterday, Mavhaire lodged a notice of opposition in the Constitutional Court. He accused Mangoma of lying saying his predessor was an accountant by profession, not a mechanical engineer or scientist and as such was not an expert on the issue.
He said he was not a lay person on the matter as he had been deputy minister of energy in 1982 and for 15 years had been director of Triangle Limited, which produces ethanol and sugar.
“I admit that since enactment of the regulations all petrol being sold in Zimbabwe is blended. I however, dispute that unleaded petrol is no longer available locally, let alone that it is a banned substance. On the contrary, all blended petrol is unleaded. Thus, unleaded fuel is available in a blended form,” he argued.