Errant fuel dealers: ZERA must keep heat on 

Source: Errant fuel dealers: ZERA must keep heat on | The Herald September 17, 2019

Beaven Dhliwayo Features Writer
The Zimbabwe Energy Regulatory Authority (ZERA) should keep pressing hard on filling stations that are demanding cash from motorists, and rejecting other forms of payment.

Several filling stations are now in the habit of demanding cash, snubbing plastic money (swipe) and mobile payment platforms like EcoCash and OneMoney. Fuel prices are increasing significantly, and for service stations to demand cash for purchasing the commodity is not fair to users, considering that everyone has now embraced plastic money.

This move by corrupt businesspeople is against calls by Reserve Bank of Zimbabwe (RBZ) Governor Dr John Mangudya to promote the use of plastic money as the country is currently facing cash shortages.

With the way events are turning out where EcoCash “agents” are also making a killing by selling cash at high premiums ranging from 35 to 60 percent, ZERA should partner with the Zimbabwe Anti-Corruption Commission (ZACC) and the Zimbabwe Republic Police (ZRP) to end this scourge by unscrupulous dealers in the fuel industry.

This is highly unacceptable. It seems there is an underground network controlling all this madness because to buy fuel with cash you will have to transfer money into any agent’s account with a premium pegged for that particular day.

Apart from the commission they get from EcoCash, agents are pocketing large amounts of money for every cash-out transaction, and ordinary citizens are losing much of their hard-earned cash. It is known that some fuel stations have introduced discounts for cash fuel buyers, while pegging a 10 percent premium for those buying using EcoCash and debits cards.

For quite some time, ZERA has been urging fuel dealers to accept plastic money and appreciate that there is a liquidity crunch, but this seems to be falling on deaf ears. ZERA should not be lenient with these fuel dealers, who keep abusing the platform to line their pockets.

Government has been warning these fuel dealers, through the Energy and Power Development Ministry, and ZERA on its part should investigate and continuously keep revoking licences of filling stations breaching the law.

Filling stations demanding cash from motorists are known, hence, action is now needed to revoke their licenses, and give them to sober-minded traders keen to join the fuel industry. It is a fact that buying fuel using bond notes is expensive, since one has to buy notes from those notorious EcoCash “agents”.

Bond notes are the fuel dealers’ favourite, and they refuse payment in bond coins for reasons best known to themselves. This is unacceptable. The world over, rising fuel prices affect the cost of living, and it has been a burden for city dwellers in the recent past, as dealers are taking advantage of the current situation.

Charging fuel in cash has a direct impact on transportation for both public commuters as well as private vehicle users. Food and everyday goods bought from retailers also increase in response; while agriculture and manufacturing, too, feel the impact of increasing petrol and diesel costs for their  machinery.

None of this necessarily means a corresponding increase in income for the consumer. For those in the transport sector, whose livelihood depends directly on the cost of fuel, for example touts, taxi drivers, commuter omnibus and bus operators — the situation looks even drabber.

Those in the transport sector have no choice, but to transfer the burden to commuters. The continued price hikes for public transport have led commuters to question whether there are viable solutions to curb the problem.

Fuel dealers should be supportive of Government’s efforts to end the cash crisis plaguing the economy.

Recently, the RBZ announced that it plans to increase cash in circulation after realising that shortages are excluding the informal sector, senior citizens and rural folks from fully participating in the economy.

This was said by the central bank’s Governor Dr John Mangudya while presenting the 2019 Mid-Term Monetary Policy Review Statement themed “Transition to Normalcy”. He added that the cash shortages should be addressed with immediate effect to eradicate arbitrage opportunities through multi-tier pricing, which has partly contributed to the surge in inflation.

If the cash crisis is addressed, prices of goods and services will start to stabilise or even fall substantially, because no one will be manipulating ordinary citizens as is happening in the market now.

ZERA, ZACC, ZRP and RBZ should join hands and keep squeezing those demanding cash when it is scarce. Licences should be continuously revoked and arrests should be effected, so that a message is clearly send to dealers across the board who demand cash for their goods and services. While the country awaits relief, there is need to budget, spend wisely, and use public transport (ZUPCO) where possible.

Lift clubs are also encouraged to save on petrol, which dealers are using to pile more agony on Zimbabweans.