A FIGHT is looming between President Emmerson Mnangagwa’s administration and grain millers over government’s roller meal subsidy programme, with the millers threatening to sue Finance minister Mthuli Ncube’s aide for blocking their registration for the scheme.
BY EVERSON MUSHAVA
Early this month, the government scrapped maize subsidies, but reintroduced them after a public outcry over high prices.
To control the prices, government introduced a roller meal subsidy programme that, however, require millers to be registered with the Ministry of Industry and Commerce.
But last week, the Grain Millers Association of Zimbabwe (GMAZ), a voluntary business organisation representing the interests of millers in the country, raised a red flag after 60 of its members were denied registration.
After a meeting with government on Thursday last week failed to resolve problems relating to the registration process, the millers have now turned their arrows to Ncube’s aide, Andrew Bvumbe, who heads the Zimbabwe Aid Debt Management, in the Finance ministry.
The millers accuse Bvumbe, who heads the subsidy programme, of unilaterally reversing Ncube’s directive to allocate subsidised maize for roller meal production to all millers and only allowing nine milling firms to access the maize.
According to letters sent to the Treasury’s top official by GMAZ’s lawyers, Wintertons Legal Practitioners last Friday, millers gave Bvumbe up to Friday to state his reasons for depriving at least 43 millers of State subsidised maize.
“It is common cause that there is a critical shortage of roller meal on the market notwithstanding the government’s noble gesture, the reason for this shortage is man-made in that of the 43 millers who sought confirmation for the supply and delivery of the subsidised maize only nine (9) obtained such confirmation,” the letter dated December 27 reads.
“As a result of the non-confirmations referred to above, some millers have closed down while others’ businesses are in danger of being wound up as they have not been supplied with the promised maize to enable them to produce the roller meal required in order to make the subsidy programme a success.”
The letter was copied to Ncube, Industry and Commerce minister Sekai Nzenza (pictured), Chief Secretary to the President and Cabinet, Misheck Sibanda and several government departments.
Millers allege Bvumbe’s decision to register only nine millers is causing mealie-meal shortages.
“Your decision to confirm only nine out of a possible 43 millers for the subsidy programme has needless to say created dire consequences for both suppliers and consumers,” the letter further read.
“The citizens of Zimbabwe have the right to sufficient food as provided for in section 77 of the Constitution of Zimbabwe. Your actions have thus resulted in the infringement of the said constitutional right.”
GMAZ added: “We must underscore that members of the general populace are starving as a direct result of your failure to confirm the allocation of maize to some millers to enable them to produce cheap and affordable roller meal in line with government policy. Roller meal is in short supply. Government’s good intentions in introducing the subsidy programme has been curtailed,” GMAZ lawyers said.
“In light of the foregoing, we have instructions to request written reasons as to why you have only confirmed allocation of maize to nine out of a possible 43 millers in order to ensure there is sufficient food security in the country.
“We request you to supply your written reasons for your conduct by close of business on or before 2 January 2020. If the reasons are not availed within the specified period we have standing instructions without further notice to institute legal proceedings against you on an urgent basis.”
The millers also fear they may be forced to close down operations if they fail to get the subsidised maize and sell at market prices.