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Editor’s Memo

Immoral looters

GOVERNMENT’S response to a crisis is often a good indicator of the effectiveness of its policies and the astuteness of its leadership. Crisis situations are unavoidable but three t

hings usually happen, depending on how a situation is dealt with: The difficulty can linger on with constant ramifications or it can be quickly dealt with and heroes are born. There is also a good chance that a crisis can degenerate into a tragedy.

A government which mismanages an economy cannot manage a crisis and is most likely to star as a villain in national tragedies like our own economic rot.

I am not going to talk about its management of the economy because the results are there for even the most politically naïve to see. I am more worried about the mismanagement of the fuel crisis. The country was virtually dry these past two weeks even though we were promised in May by the “monetary authorities” that the problem would be solved in three weeks’ time.

False promises constitute mismanagement of a crisis. An administration that’s bereft of ideas to come out of a sticky situation will lie that a solution is on the horizon. The problem will soon be “a thing of the past”. Such hopeless statements are coined to create the false sense of action. Keeping the affected and afflicted in suspense is a better ruse than telling them the painful truth. Let them hope against hope.

If evidence was needed that the current crisis was not being managed, this was provided by government seizing fuel from private organisations to give it to the army, the police and intelligence officers. I got at least half a dozen calls this week from companies whose reserves had been raided by the authorities ostensibly to keep “strategic wheels” of government business turning.

On Saturday I witnessed three army Mazda Familia sedans laden with men who appeared to be going fishing – judging by the fishing rods protruding from windows of the cars. They were heading down Lomagundi Road, probably to Manyame Dam or further afield to Mazvikadei Dam. These are the strategic arms of our society getting preference ahead of companies that should deliver goods or bring in supplies.

The same goes for the Zimbabwe Revenue Authority whose vehicles get preferential treatment ahead of us commoners at service stations. It is evident that government needs to collect revenue but companies and individuals have to make the money first. I hope it is not true, as we have heard, that Zimra inspectors driving Peugeot 306s or Ford Bantams have an allocation of over 200 litres each a month.

There is no equitable distribution of fuel because manufacturers and service providers do not have any. Ambulances and undertakers’ vehicles cannot get fuel yet soldiers going fishing have full tanks. Chefs in the army use three-tonne trucks to run errands to their farms or simply to buy lunch. Are all those up-and-down trips in Chinese-built trucks necessary?

This is a clear example of mismanaging a crisis by failing to prioritise sensibly. There are civil servants in middle-management positions with allocations of 300 litres a month. It is frightening to imagine what permanent secretaries and ministers are allocated in the same period.

As a result of these skewed allocations in an environment of shortages, fuel has found its way onto the black market where it is selling for anything up to $100 000 a litre instead of $10 000.

Kombis, which are also getting preference at service stations, are some of the biggest suppliers of the black market. Carrying passengers is no longer as profitable as simply parking the bus and selling the fuel to those who are not strategic enough to get it at service stations.

Why are fuel attendants allowed to fill up vehicles from the scrapyard which at times don’t have engines but carry improvised tanks of up to 200 litres? Where is our police force to deal with the black market? Who cares especially if there is no mechanism to deal with the scourge of corruption?

The government is not managing this crisis at all. It is simply turning it into a tragedy. Where is the new Industry and International Trade minister to protect companies from this unfair treatment by his colleagues? Or simply, who is managing the country?

The little fuel that is available could go a long way if there was strict monitoring to ensure that there is reduced consumption for everyone. When we are all being told to tighten our belts, chefs with insatiable appetites still burn scarce fuel from Harare to Chitungwiza every night to visit prostitutes. And Gono thinks that people with this mindset can lead an economic recovery. Shame on these immoral looters!

I do not believe this government has what it takes to get us out of this crisis. Cynicism sets in when trust for government goes out. When this happens citizens respond to the national crisis with expressions of disgust and shortcuts of their own. It becomes every man for himself. Can government convince me that it’s managing the fuel shortages sensibly?

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