Foreign retailers: Govt beware

The government recently announced that it had given foreign retailers, dominated by the Chinese and Nigerians, until the end of January to close shop. The move, the government said, is meant to make way for locals who, according to the law, must get first preference in the retail sector.

Paul Bogaert
Paul Bogaert

However, there are numerous issues and questions that the government needs to attend to and answer as it moves towards the consummation of its stated plan.

The first and, to us, most paramount question relates to what measures there are in place to cushion the affected foreigners from the shocks that come with a stoppage of their commercial ventures.

Granted, the government says it issued the warning to them early this year, in which case the foreign retailers had enough time to make alternative plans. But the matter is not as simple as that. It should be noted that many of these foreign retailers have been living here for a long time. Some of them relocated their families to Zimbabwe after acquiring licences to operate their shops. In some cases, they came with employees who had already made Zimbabwe their second home.

We also need to know how these foreign traders were granted licences in the first place. The law is explicit in that the retail sector must be reserved for locals. How, then, did the non-Zimbabwean retailers manage to claim hundreds of shops ahead of the locals? This is pertinent, particularly given the fact that local people have in the past complained about rampant corruption in the allocation of space for retail business.

The buck has to stop with someone. The government cannot convince us that it didn’t know what was happening. In fact, these retailers were paying taxes to Zimra, meaning that they were recognised as legal entities. Does this make Zimra an accomplice? What about the municipalities that participated in the allocation of retail space to the so-called foreigners?

We have seen this pattern where illegal structures, that the government still maintains it wants demolished, are concerned. The structures sprouted over a long period and the owners were paying municipal and other dues, only for the government to turn around and attempt to destroy the structures.

It is crucial for the government to weigh the positives of what it wants to do against the negatives. If the downside outweighs the benefits, then the law might just have to be changed.

Finally, we must express concern over the clear selectivity in which the indigenisation law is being implemented. We understand there are other major business concerns where some types of foreigners are not being touched, particularly in the mining and extractive sectors. We are also aware of foreign companies that have been given tenders under shady circumstances. What is going to happen to these?

Post published in: Editor: Wilf Mbanga

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