DIESEL and petrol are now readily available across the country.
The long, winding queues at fuel stations that we had gotten used to in recent years are now history.
Yes, it is good that fuel supply has improved but access to it is not as easy as we want it to be. This is because all fuel service stations are selling the commodity in foreign currency only. This has been the case for many months now.
As a result, clients with limited access to foreign currency have barely seen a positive change. For them to be able to buy the commodity, they have to find alternative ways to secure foreign currency, in most cases at a heavy cost. Even companies and institutions have to work creatively on a market that demands foreign currency.
The Government has moved to alleviate the challenge, setting up a US$15 million fund to pay for importation of fuel that would be sold exclusively in local currency. By Thursday, 57 fuel companies had indicated their willingness to participate in this planned market.
“Last month, Zera (Zimbabwe Energy Regulatory Authority) flighted an advert inviting fuel station owners and distributors who would like to participate in ZWL fuel supply facility,” acting Minister of Energy and Power Development, Dr Jenfan Muswere told Parliament on Thursday.
“So far, 57 fuel station owners and distributors have responded and the first tranche of 15 distributors and fuel station owners are now working with Zera and RBZ (Reserve Bank of Zimbabwe) on modalities to ensure that it is water tight and that there are also conditions that should be attached to the distribution of the ZWL fuel facility.
Part of those conditions include the fact that all these fuel station owners should allow the National Fuel Management system to be installed at their service stations.
Furthermore, the conditions also include the fact that there should be weekly reports, monitoring and evaluation in terms of the ZWL fuel facility. This facility has been developed to take care of the motoring public, the farmers, Government ministries agencies and departments and also key strategic government contractors involved in dam construction et cetera.
So, we are now working on the final piece of the modalities to ensure that we roll out the ZWL fuel facility.”
We cannot wait for the rollout of this facility. As we have noted, not many of us earn foreign currency to be able to spend it freely including on refuelling our vehicles. And we think that is the case with most people across the country.
Therefore, those of us whose worth is only in local currency will be happy to see a return of Z$ petrol and diesel. Zera and the RBZ must speedily execute this task.
But we have not forgotten the arbitrage opportunities that a facility such as this one created a few years ago for the unscrupulous among us.
We remember some people bought petrol and diesel cheaply in local currency and immediately sold in on the black market in foreign currency. Involved in this were some of our farmers as well. The risk of this happening again is there.
So we demand that the RBZ, Zera and law enforcement agencies work thoroughly to enforce the fuel management system that the Government has most aptly named Matsimba. They must be able to accurately and expeditiously keep track of those who buy fuel under the facility and make it a point that they sell it in local currency. Indeed, they must be able to easily pick and follow the spoor, matsimba in Shona, to wherever it leads — to a legitimate market or the black market.
Whoever abuses this well-meaning facility deserves the severest of sanctions.
Another important point to consider is making sure that the fuel prices under this window are competitive. They must compare favourably with those charged by forecourts selling in foreign currency.
If the prices at the Government-led facility are too low, that would also encourage the schemers among us to do what they know best. Let us not give them an opportunity to abuse the system. So even if it means selling a litre of petrol at $300 let it be as long as the facility is sustainable and free from abuse.
The country needs US$100 million to import fuel monthly. What the Government is working on is a US$15 million facility. It isn’t clear yet if that will be spent in a month, less or more. We also appreciate that the wider fuel industry is using free funds importing the commodity, which they are free to sell in foreign currency.
Considering, on one hand, our projection that this proposed facility would be popular and, on the other, the Government budget versus the US$100 million that is needed monthly to import liquid fuels, we are concerned that US$15million might be inadequate.
It looks reasonable to begin with but authorities might need to be flexible to ramp up the budget if demand, as we foresee, outstrips the US$15 million in a short period.