Editorial Comment

FINANCE minister Mthuli Ncube, in presenting his 2020 National Budget on Thursday, which he said marked the end of “austerity measures”, missed an opportunity to indeed pave the way for real relief for a burdened population battling to make ends meet as the economy continues on its downward spiral.

Many people were already battling to afford basic foodstuffs such as mealie-meal and bread, and yet their prices are set to skyrocket once more following the removal of subsidies for grain imports.

The majority of people were hoping that this budget would demonstrate government’s commitment to alleviate ordinary people’s suffering, but it is likely to deepen the hardship as the “festive” season fast approaches against a grim backdrop of high prices of basic goods.

Ncube’s proposal for the government-owned Grain Marketing Board and grain millers in the country to source their own foreign currency to import grain for resale at market prices will only serve to push the prices of staple foods out of control. Grain millers, who will import grain and wheat, will likely purchase foreign currency on the parallel market and that will have a huge impact on their pricing mechanism.

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While Ncube opted to use the moderate phrase that “prices of basic commodities such as bread and mealie-meal may adjust” we are quite aware they can only adjust upwards, exerting more pressure on an already heavily-burdened population that was hoping for some good news from the budget, especially as government had been preaching the gospel of the end of the austerity measures that have been used to justify the increase in prices of basic commodities before.

Although the minister indicated that the subsidies had become prone to abuse, there was need to think through the change of tact without creating a situation that would punish the innocent.

It raises more questions why government would continue supporting the Command Agriculture programme, which is under probe by Parliament after failing to account for US$3 billion in public money, yet the financial authorities are alleging abuse of food aid for its citizens.

Funny enough, it’s the ruling Zanu PF party which has always been caught in the crosswires of food aid abuse.

Government should stop beating about the bush and, instead, go after the bush.

A nation with hungry people is not stable. Already, people are failing to put decent meals on the table, and worse is coming next year when some of Ncube’s warped reforms kick in.