Imports of petroleum products spiked sharply last year by 40 percent and 27 percent for petrol and diesel respectively, spurred by a number of factors chiefly among them, a jump in manufacturing sector capacity utilisation.
During the period, cross-border truckers also took advantage of lucrative parallel market exchange rates for the US dollar against the RTGS, to prefer buying their fuel in Zimbabwe since it was cheaper compared to regional countries.
Arbitrage by some unscrupulous citizens also saw a rise in the demand for petroleum products. The fuel importation statistics are startling considering that towards the end of last year, the country battled fierce fuel shortages that have only been tamed now following an adjustment in petroleum prices recently.
Statistics from the Zimbabwe Revenue Authority (Zimra) show that petrol imports increased by 39,92 percent to 570,17 million litres last year. Diesel imports also jumped by 26,84 percent to 1,06 billion litres.
The rise in petroleum imports and the contribution by beer and airtime, saw the national tax collector raking a revenue of $908,88 million from the excise duty tax head last year.
“The performance of the revenue head is attributed to increased supply of petroleum products. The demand for petrol and diesel was heightened by cross-border travellers who preferred to fuel in Zimbabwe due to its flexible exchange rate of Real Time Gross Settlements (RTGS).
“Petrol imports increased by 39,92 percent from 407,49 million litres in 2017 to 570,17 million litres in 2018 whilst diesel imports increased by 26,84 percent from 834,40 million in 2017 to 1,06 billion litres in 2018,” said Zimra in its 2018 revenue performance report.”
Industry gobbled more fuel
Demand for fuel increased sharply particularly from April last year compared to 2017.
Statistics from the Zimbabwe Energy Regulatory Authority (Zera), show that in April last year over 60,6 million litres of diesel and 42,8 million litres of petrol were imported, compared to 45,4 million of diesel and 28,8 million litres of petrol.
July recorded the biggest jump from 59,4 million litres of diesel in 2017 to 112,2 million litres last year, with 77,8 million litres of petrol being imported in 2018 compared to 33,6 million litres in the comparative period.
In September last year, Zimbabwe imported 119,2 million litres of diesel compared to 69,2 million litres in the year earlier, while petrol imports shot up to 74,2 million litres from 38,9 million litres in 2017.
The surge in fuel consumption patterns corroborate indications by Confederation of Zimbabwe Industries (CZI) president Sifelani Jabangwe that between January and September last year industry used 60 percent of all diesel imported into the country, with the balance used by private motorists.
At the same time, cross-border truckers were refuelling in Zimbabwe where it was cheaper if one converted US dollars to mobile money or RTGS on the parallel market.
It is also understood that some Zimbabweans and citizens from neighbouring countries seized the opportunity presented by lower fuel prices to use unorthodox means to obtain fuel in bulk at service stations for resale in some neighbouring countries.
Several service stations came under attack from members of the public for engaging in brazen corruption which saw some motorists getting more fuel compared to other, on the basis that they would have paid bribes.
However, since January 13 when Government increased the price of petrol to $3,31 and $3,11 for diesel, fuel queues have considerably subsided as some citizens have cut down on unnecessary travel using own vehicles.
Diplomats and tourists can access petrol at US$1,34 and diesel at US$1,24, in a move designed to help Government generate some foreign currency which would be useful in importing more fuel. Since the price adjustments, it is no longer uncommon to see a service station with few or no cars at all, despite the availability of fuel.
Energy experts say the decision by Government to marginally increase the price of fuel was a master-stroke since it was being burdened by the need to source foreign currency to import fuel which would then be diverted to the parallel market.