HARARE – Foreigners who are smuggling fuel outside of Zimbabwe are causing increased demand which is contributing to its scarcity.
Government said it will institute long term solutions to ensure adequate fuel supplies in the country.
Zimbabwe has undergone a painful era of fuel shortages which has affected industry and commerce.
The shortages can be rightly attributed to a surge in demand to a rise in economic activity but part of the demand is artificial caused by price distortions in the economy.
Energy and Power Development Minister Dr Joram Gumbo said Zimbabwe is the cheapest haven of fuel in the region hence foreigners are registering brisk business by buying fuel locally and reselling it to their home countries.
“Our fuel in US dollar terms is very cheap so that makes it profitable for foreigners to buy it from here and sell to their own countries. So some of the demand is quite artificial otherwise we are buying fuel on behalf of others in the region,” he said.
The Reserve Bank of Zimbabwe in the mid-term monetary policy statement directed all transit-foreign registered vehicles to pay for fuel only in hard currency but the policy measure seemed to be lacking in terms of implementation.
In US dollar terms using the Old Mutual implied rate, fuel in Zimbabwe costs around US$0.35 compared to around US$1.30 in the region.
Minister Gumbo revealed that long term measures are being put in place to find a lasting solution to the crisis including coming up with facilities with international oil companies.
Shortages of some basic commodities have marred the festive season in Zimbabwe, with many unable to get traditionally expected items such as soft drinks, beer and bread in the shops.
Many shops were rationing the items wherever they were available, and a black market for fuel has begun to thrive.
To beat the rationing, many people are bringing along colleagues to stand in different queues so that they can get as much of their preferred commodities as possible.
At Marimba shops, a man was seen getting into a shop several times to buy beer, which was limited to a pack of six per customer.
“The trick is to get back into the shop and use a different till operator who does not know that you have already bought the same commodity in the same shop. As long as the queues remain short I will go in as many times as I can,” he told Xinhua.
Some shoppers are now bringing along their children to beat the rationing so that each child can get an allotted share of the goods.
Many people have also opted not to travel to rural areas for the festive season because of fuel shortages.
With long queues at many filling stations, some motorists have decided not to risk travelling long distances without the guarantee that they will be able to fill up their vehicles on the way back.
“I can’t spend the whole festive season in fuel queues and there is no way I will travel to the village in Masvingo when I don’t know whether I will be able to get fuel for the return journey,” said John Hungwe of Harare.
It appears that many will have to part with the tradition of traveling to rural areas to spend time with parents and other loved ones during the festive season.
“Yesterday I… sent my parents some money and the little goodies I could get them for Christmas,” Hungwe said. “This year it’s very different, with people struggling to either get enough money or, if the money is available, to get the required goods.”
The government said it had instituted random checks on fuel stations across the country to curb hoarding.
The Herald newspaper, in its editions Monday, quoted Energy and Power Development Minister Joram Gumbo as saying that police and Zimbabwe Energy Regulatory Authority officials have been deployed across the country and that traders and stations found withholding fuel or selling it on the black market risk losing their licences.
Gumbo said the government has learned that some service stations were withholding fuel and selling it on the black market and to pirate taxis.
“We are suspecting that some of the fuel shortages might be political,” he said. “What we have noticed is that pirate taxis and public transport operators are also hoarding and stocking fuel.
“The spike in demand could have also been triggered by the festive season,” he said.
Petrol, which costs an average 1.40 U.S. dollars per liter at filling stations, is being sold at 30 dollars per five liters on the black market. Enditem