Fuel crisis needs urgent attention

Source: Fuel crisis needs urgent attention – The Zimbabwe Independent January 11, 2019


THE fuel crisis, which has worsened in the New Year, has had a devastating impact on an already dangerously fragile economy.

We have witnessed commuter omnibus fares doubling or even trebling, hitting the pockets of long-suffering Zimbabweans whose disposable incomes have been drastically eroded after decades of economic mismanagement.

Some of the commuting public has now been forced to walk to work as the transport fares have become unaffordable.

Motorists are spending hours on end in long, winding queues.

In justifying the fare hikes, commuter omnibus and long-distance bus operators have cited the fuel shortages and the rising prices of spare parts which are now pegged in United States dollars. An increasing number of fuel stations have begun pricing fuel in foreign currency, which most motorists have no access to. This will also stoke inflation, currently pegged at 31% officially, although it is widely believed that the figure is much higher than that.

The chaos ensuing from the fuel crisis is yet another symptom of government’s lethargy in addressing the issue of currency reforms that have wreaked havoc on the economy. The delay by government in addressing the chaotic pricing system has considerably aggravated the fuel crisis.

The fiction that the bond note is at par with the US dollar has created opportunities for arbitrage and corruption, as well as spawning a thriving black market for the precious liquid. This has had a domino effect on the cost of goods and services which have risen sharply as a result of the biting fuel shortage.

The situation is not helped by the opaqueness around the allocation of foreign currency by the Reserve Bank of Zimbabwe to various sectors of the economy. It is mindboggling why the central bank does not make public how it allocates forex, a scarce resource. Lifting the veil of opaqueness would not only reduce suspicion by the general public but could also enhance accountability in how the foreign currency is allocated and utilised.

Political leaders and senior bureaucrats cannot afford to continue burying their heads in the sand instead of tackling the problem. The government needs to formulate and implement concrete strategies for dealing with the currency conundrum as well put in place a more stringent monitoring to track how the money given to fuel dealers is being spent and accounted for.

The current situation is untenable and is creating a powder keg for major social unrest as frustration and anger reach boiling point. The signs are already there for all to see with the strike by doctors, the threats by civil servants to down their tools and looming protests by the opposition MDC Alliance next week.

President Emmerson Mnangagwa has continuously called on Zimbabweans to be patient. However, if government fails to deal decisively with the fuel crisis, that patience could very quickly run out.

The government cannot afford to continue kicking the can down the road.