News briefs Zimbabwe

Reserve Bank scraps fuel coupons

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HARAREZimbabwe’s thriving black market has foiled a pilot project launched by

the Reserve Bank to harness foreign currency from people wanting to buy scarce fuel. Under the scheme anyone with forex could purchase fuel coupons and trade these in for either petrol or diesel at participating fuel stations.

Most Zimbabweans in exile began using the system to help their relatives back home. They in turn would either use the fuel or trade the coupons on the black market.

Central Bank governor, Gideon Gono, told the press that the redemption of the coupons would be in local currency and the conversion would be done at the inter-bank rate prevailing as at February 13, 2006.

Gono said some members of the public were engaging in speculative and parallel market activities and that this was the main reason behind the cancellation of the facility. All coupons have to be redeemed by February 28, effectively meaning service stations can no

longer sell fuel in foreign currency. – SW Radio Africa

Power cuts destroy switches

BULAWAYO – The frequent power cuts that have hit Zimbabwe recently have destroyed billions of dollars worth of street lighting switch equipment.

Bulawayo has been virtually plunged into darkness even when there is electricity, as the Council struggles to raise hundreds of millions of dollars needed to buy120 time switches.

The city has an estimated 15 000 lights in the eastern areas, of which 50% are currently in working order.

Bulawayo also has 532 tower lights in the western areas, while another 26 tower lights were recently erected but not yet equipped due to financial woes.

The council needs more than $520 million and nearly 1000 litres of fuel to implement its maintenance backlog action plan on street lighting. – CAJ News.

Biti dismisses draft constitution

HARARE – Lawyer and Harare East MDC Member of Parliament, Tendai Biti has dismissed as fake, a draft ‘MDC’ constitution being circulated to party supporters and the media.

The document gives the impression party leader Morgan Tsvangirai is trying to amend the MDC constitution and give himself excessive powers and an unlimited term in office. Biti says he is chairing a committee tasked by the National Council to draft constitutional reform proposals. No other organ of the party was carrying out a parallel process.

The party’s recent split over the senate elections had exposed major weaknesses in the current constitution, which needed to be addressed he said.

The committee has sent an official draft to the provinces for input on amendments that would make their constitution acceptable even as a national one. Biti says they have included a bill of rights and made sure party structures in the diaspora are recognised in the new constitution. – SW Radio Africa

Is Mugabe slowing down?

HARARE – Robert Mugabe’s health status continues to be a mystery as there is never an official comment or statement about his well-being. But over the last two months speculation has grown over the condition of the dictator who turns 82 next week.

Mugabe is supposed to be officially back at work after his annual leave expired at the end of January, but state media is still reporting that Joyce Mujuru is acting president. Commentators say the latest reports allude to the “mysterious disappearance of the president which has set tongues wagging in diplomatic circles.”

Over the years it has become increasingly difficult to prove anything about Mugabe’s health but concerns were raised recently when he was spotted with his wife Grace at a clinic in South Africa.

Although he attended a cabinet meeting and opened parliament this week, some insiders say he has drastically scaled down public engagements amid speculation that his health is failing.

Constitutional law expert Dr Lovemore Madhuku said the recent signing of the draconian General Laws Amendment Act (GLAA) into law by Mujuru is significant in that Mugabe rarely gives that power and authority to anyone but himself.

Mujuru also recently signed the Actb which advocates the imprisonment of journalists who write falsehoods, people who insult the president and bans unauthorised gatherings.

Madhuku added, “Mujuru is far from the kind of person who should lead our country. This country has enormous problems and from what we have seen of Mujuru, and this has nothing to do with gender, it is that she has no capacity. She is just empty.” – SW Radio Africa

Basic food unavailable

CHINHOYI – Not only has the price of most basic commodities skyrocketed recently but basic foodstuffs such as mealie-meal and sugar are nowhere to be found.

Our correspondent went back home empty handed after failing to find any basic foods in the Chinhoyi town centre. But it cost him Z$50,000 for the round trip from Chikonohono high density suburb.

Many families are turning to rice because they cannot find any mealie-meal. But if the family had about six members, they would not be able to feed everyone at these prices. – SW Radio Africa

Zimbabwe to audit millers

HARARE – The Grain Marketing Board (GMB) has begun auditing the country’s millers

in the wake of worsening shortages of the staple mealie-meal and a looming shortage of bread.

The GMB, the only company permitted by law to buy maize and wheat from farmers or to import the grains, is tasked with ensuring food security in the country but its silos are understood to be empty because it does not have hard cash to pay foreign suppliers.

Milling firms have warned that the country would soon be completely without bread

because they had run out of wheat to make flour.

The GMB blames the millers for worsening the food crisis by diverting flour and maize-meal to the illegal but thriving black-market.

Milling industry executives say it is powerful government officials who are behind the food black-market.

“There is really no need to investigate us because the GMB should know as everyone else does that the people who have been fuelling the black-market and even exporting wheat out of the country are in the party and government,” said a chief executive officer of a Harare milling firm who did not want to be named for fear of being seen as antagonising the GMB.

Mugabe’s nephew Leo was last year brought before the courts facing charges of illegally exporting 30 tonnes of wheat to Mozambique. But Leo Mugabe walked out of the court a free man after the state declined to prosecute.

Meanwhile police are probing Zanu (PF) legislator Douglas Mombeshora after they intercepted 140 tonnes of wheat that was being illegally transported to Zambia. The wheat is said to belong to Mombeshora. – ZimOnline

Maize meal scam bust

MUTARE – Security forces on patrol along the Forbes Border Post have bust an illegal maize meal exportation scheme allegedly run by a number of Zanu (PF) heavyweights.

One of the politicians reported to be involved in the scam is the party’s youth vice-chairman in the province and Member of Parliament for Chipinge South, Enock Porusingazi.

Highly placed sources in Zimbabwe’s Eastern-border city said they recently discovered 1000x 50kg bags of maize in his warehouse, which he reportedly got from the GMB.

Porusingazi, who owns several grinding mills in his constituency, said he had produced the maize from his fields and intended to use it to feed chickens.

However, investigations revealed that Porusingazi has been getting the maize from various GMB depots nationwide using dubious methods.

Reports also indicate that some ward councillors in rural areas, who receive maize grain periodically from the GMB on behalf of villagers, are either selling the grain on the parallel market or taking it across the borders in order to earn foreign currency at the detriment of the community.

The Minister of State for National Security, Lands and Land Reform, Didymus Mutasa, confirmed that they were investigating some of the corrupt politicians.

“While we are busy importing grain, some people are busy re-exporting it. These are acts of sabotage and we have since come up with tight measures to curb this rot,” Mutasa said. – CAJ News

Reporting conditions relaxed

HARARE – Reporting conditions for Voice of the People (VOP) radio board members were relaxed when they appeared in court for a remand hearing recently .

David Masunda, VOP chairman, his deputy Arnold Tsunga, and board members Lawrence Chibwe, Nhlanhla Ngwenya, and Millie Phiri who are accused of operating a radio station without a licence in terms of the Broadcasting Services Act (BSA), are on $4 million dollars bail each. – CAJ News

No offices for senators

BULAWAYO – The Zimbabwe government is yet to provide offices for senators, several months after their election into office.

Some of the senators are now looking for their own offices on an individual basis

after getting frustrated with working from their homes.

Senate President Edna Madzongwe confirmed that the government was yet to house senators but said the issue was under discussion.

“They will have offices. We are working on the issue but we have not formalised anything as yet and information relating to that would come though the standing rules and orders committee of Parliament,” said Madzongwe.

Analysts say the introduction of the Senate has stretched the already scarce national resources as new members push for perks.

At their induction workshop, the senators demanded better perks than those offered to Members of Parliament. Critics argue that allowances for senators and other benefits would further deplete the country’s financial resources, at a time the government’s finances have been stretched by food imports. – CAJ News

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