THE Zimbabwe Anti-Corruption Commission (Zacc) is set to investigate GMB senior management and sales representatives in Bulawayo after a taskforce that was formed to probe the shortage of mealie-meal unearthed that at least 60 percent of Government subsidised mealie-meal was allegedly being diverted to the black market.
Bulawayo has been identified as a hotbed of mealie-meal black market activities with huge stock piles of the subsided mealie meal being sold on the streets and cash shops dotted around the city centre, while few shops, mostly retails shops, are selling the product at the official price.
In the few instances where the shops receive the mealie-meal, it quickly runs out with accusations that shops also sell to traders who in turn sell it on the black market. Some retail shops also use the product in their deli sections where they sell isitshwala at high prices.
A 10 kilogramme bag of subsidised mealie-meal is officially pegged at $50 but is sold at between $65 and $70 in cash only by illegal shops and street vendors. In the latest development, a maize taskforce led by Industry and Commerce Deputy Minister Raj Modi unearthed a well-orchestrated roller meal scandal at Silo Foods Industries in Bulawayo where some managers have allegedly teamed up with sales representatives to divert the subsidised commodity meant for retailers to the black market.
The taskforce has engaged Zacc over its findings, sources said. The taskforce last week made a surprise visit at Silo Foods Industries’ factory at Belmont industrial area where it allegedly discovered an invoice book that was being used by the perpetrators of the scam. It also came across 50kg bags of maize meal, which are suspected to be sold to shadowy retailers against Government’s directive to millers to supply shops with 20kgs and 10kgs.
“These incidents of fraud are tantamount to stealing food from the mouths of hungry Zimbabweans. This is corruption at its highest level. We can’t allow such malpractices to go on unchecked. To this end we have suspended the sales representative who was getting most of the mealie-meal allocation from Silo Foods Industries in Bulawayo. We found their (employees maize meal allocation) explanation absurd and we suspended that arrangement forthwith. Besides it leads to conflict of interests, fuels the black market and accelerates inflation. We have also demanded a comprehensive report from management,” said Deputy Minister Modi.
He said it was disheartening to note that Silo Foods employees went against the company’s mandate of availing affordable food stuffs to citizens.
“Silo Foods Industries was formed to provide affordable food to Zimbabweans who are falling victim to heartless retailers who are out to profiteer. It is thus saddening to discover that people we tasked with bringing relief to Zimbabweans are actually oiling the black-market machinery,” said Deputy Minister Modi.
Silo Foods Industries started operations in April last year after the Government unbundled GMB into two entities — Strategic Grain Reserve and Silo Foods Industries as part of its public enterprise reform programme. Deputy Minister Modi said although the country was faced with a drought, it has come to the attention of the taskforce that some of the food shortages were self-inflicted by some unscrupulous individuals.
“The shortage of mealie-meal has nothing to do with drought, all of this is man-made. All of this has to do with corrupt individuals in positions of authority who don’t put people’s interests at the core of their actions. It’s a disgrace, criminal, it’s wrong, and it needs to end,” he fumed.
A snap survey by the Sunday News at most black-market thriving places in Bulawayo revealed that the Silo brand of mealie-meal together with other brands was in abundance while most shops have gone for over two months without the commodity.
GMB general manager Mr Rockie Mutenha told Sunday News that the rate of black-market activities involving maize meal in Bulawayo was alarming. He said he was not sure how their product was found on the black market in abundance.
“What is happening with the people in Bulawayo is that somehow some of them buy mealie-meal in bulk and channel it to the black market and it’s even sold in the dead of the night. We are bringing in maize and milling it but unfortunately, we can’t do anything about black market activities, that has to be dealt with at policy level,” he said.
Confederation of Zimbabwe Retailers president Mr Denford Mutashu who is also part of the taskforce committee said there was a need for Government to increase maize imports into the country so as to curb black market activities.
“We are putting all the resources in ensuring that the country has enough maize and to make sure that what has been milled actually follows a proper distribution pattern. We don’t know the origins of the maize meal, which is found on the black market. What we (retailers) are receiving from the millers is exactly what we are selling to the consumers.
“We have some players that have also decided to go across borders to bring in mealie-meal, so we also have brands from South Africa and Botswana. We believe that at some stage the market will saturate. So far there are gaps but once the market saturates all the challenges will begin falling out but we cannot expect that to happen as long as there isn’t enough maize in the country to mill.”
National Consumer Rights Association (Nacora) advocacy advisor, Mr Effie Ncube accused some unscrupulous millers and retailers of feeding the informal sector with maize meal culminating in the artificial shortage of the commodity on the formal market.
“The rampant black-market activities involving mealie-meal tells us that the eradication of corruption should be of the uppermost priority. There are millers and supermarkets that are colluding with black market players to sell mealie-meal in cash. They deliver it straight to the black market or hide it in the storerooms and deliver it later on the dark alleys,” he said.
Mr Ncube added that: “Government and Zacc must come down hard on these unscrupulous and unethical business practices.”
Bulawayo Vendors and Traders Association executive director Mr Michael Mdladla Ndiweni refuted claims that the rampant black-market activities were being perpetrated by vendors, shifting the blame to retailers whom he accused of fuelling black market activities in pursuit of generating foreign currency using unorthodox ways. He said some shops and millers had “runners” selling the commodity in foreign currency in and outside the city.
“It’s not true that the entire black market is perpetrated by vendors and informal traders because we have traders who are renting and selling inside shops which is a legitimate business. The other thing is that some goods you see on the black market like mealie-meal are taken out from retail shops by managers and shop owners and are sold in foreign currency. So, it is not fair to use vendors who are struggling to make ends as scapegoats,” he said.