Vincent Kahiya/Clemence Manyukwe
POLITICAL rivalry between feuding camps in Zanu PF has divided government over the issue of price controls with police
defying Vice-President Joice Mujuru’s calls to halt the arrests of company executives.
Government sources said Mujuru, who supported industry against harassment over price increases, had fallen out of favour with President Mugabe who has given the law enforcers the greenlight to clamp down on companies raising prices of basic commodities. A senior government official was arrested this week for allowing an increase in the price of bread.
“There is now all the evidence that she is no longer the anointed one,” a source said yesterday. “When she became VP, Mugabe told the nation that she should go all the way but his tone has now changed. It’s ‘the people’ who now have to decide on succession.”
The source said the conflict over price controls and the arrest of company executives had opened a door to the rival camp led by Emmerson Mnangagwa “whose star is definitely rising”.
Caught in the cross-fire of the political rivalry is Industry and International Trade minister Obert Mpofu who has become a target of his colleagues who accuse him of giving the nod to price increases.
In addition to the government official, police this week arrested company executives on allegations of illegally hiking prices. The arrests are in defiance of Mujuru’s order.
After the arrests of private-sector executives last month, the Confederation of Zimbabwe Industries (CZI) and the Zimbabwe National Chamber of Commerce confronted Mujuru.
CZI president Callisto Jokonya yesterday confirmed that they met Mujuru who assured them there would be no more arrests in connection with price controls.
“We had a meeting with the vice-president and she assured us that it would not happen again,” Jokonya said. “We have received information that some wholesalers have been arrested today in connection with price controls. We have talked to officials at the Ministry of Industry and they say they are not responsible. We do not know where the order is coming from.”
Last weekend, Mugabe was singing a different tune to Mujuru. Addressing a gathering in Gweru, he said people should “report” businesses that hike prices.
“When we review salaries, we would have looked into prices. We call on you people to report such businesses to us when they increase prices of basic commodities like bread, mealie meal and sugar,” Mugabe said.
Mpofu, recently back from an abortive mission to India, yesterday said he had nothing to do with the arrests. Industry sources said Mpofu had indicated the arrests were being instigated by a “third force” which had usurped his power at the ministry. He confirmed to the Zimbabwe Independent yesterday that he had nothing to do with the arrests.
“Why don’t you talk to (Joseph) Malaba from CZI?” said Mpofu. “We are really not involved in the pricing issue. It is them in industry who are in charge and government is not in control. We do not know what is happening. Talk to them about the arrests, they know better,” Mpofu said. Malaba is the CEO of the CZI.
Mpofu’s ministry is supposed to chair the Price Stabilisation Committee, a body mandated by cabinet to monitor and decide on the prices of three basic commodities — flour, maize meal and bread. The committee includes representatives from the private sector which holds the deputy chair. The CZI represents the private sector on the committee.
The attack on Mpofu has manifested itself in the arrest of his ministry’s director of research and consumer affairs, Norman Chakanetsa, on corruption charges. Chakanetsa, who chairs the pricing committee, was arrested at his office on Tuesday and taken to Ahmed House. Police this week also recorded a statement from Malaba regarding the issue.
Police spokesperson Assistant Commissioner Wayne Bvudzijena yesterday confirmed Chakanetsa’s arrest for authorising the bread price hike while the Confederation of Zimbabwe Industries said some wholesalers had been arrested in connection with the issue of prices.
“He was supposed to appear in court today for violating the Prevention of Corruption Act. He is alleged to have increased the price of bread without the necessary authority,” Bvudzijena said.
Sources said price controls became even more divisive after the arrest of business executives and the blasting of police by Harare magistrate Peter Garufu as overzealous last month following the incident.
After the ruling, government called for a meeting of the police, magistrates and prosecutors to advise them on how to handle cases to do with price control violations.
Harare provincial magistrate Mishrod Guvamombe yesterday confirmed the holding of the meeting but could not give details.
“I did not attend the meeting on price controls but there were magistrates, the police, prosecutors and representatives from the Ministry of Industry. There is a committee which has been formed,” Guvamombe said.
* Meanwhile a Harare magistrate yesterday fined several companies found guilty of violating price control regulations.
The companies were fined amounts ranging from $130 00 to $500 000. More companies are expeced to appear before the courts to answer the same charges. The fined companies include Lobels, Innscor and Greatermans.