For allegedly playing games with people’s lives, five Grain Marketing Board (GMB) officials at its Belmont depot in Bulawayo have just been suspended from their jobs without pay and benefits.
It is said that the depot manager, Mr Stanley Chimakira, together with his subordinates Messrs Buhle Dube, Vincent Gwariro and Tashin Kamangira as well as Ms Samkeliso Nyathi had been channelling subsided roller meal and other Silo Foods Industries products to the black market, in the process starving the formal market.
The national roller meal taskforce chaired by Industry and Commerce Deputy Minister Raj Modi, acting on suspicions of underhand activities at the depot, probed the distribution of roller meal from the facility. They weren’t satisfied with the situation thus an internal audit, probably more thorough, was later conducted. It confirmed the suspicions leading to the suspensions of the quintet.
“My taskforce,” Deputy Minister Modi told Chronicle on Wednesday, “recently unearthed serious irregularities at the GMB depot in Belmont and the manager and his team were involved in diverting subsidised roller meal to the black market. As I speak, they have been suspended pending hearings. In fact, from the Government position, we are quite disturbed by what we have discovered and some of the culprits responsible for creating supply and distribution anomalies have been identified.”
Many of us were puzzled that while deliveries of maize were flowing normally to the depot, and trucks were always seen full of roller meal leaving the facility, there was more of the product on the street than on supermarket shelves. Just this factor was enough to raise suspicions of some corrupt activities taking place at the depot. Actually, we have had sightings of the trucks loading full consignments of subsidised roller meal at the GMB and unloading at points along Fifth Avenue and Fort Street in Bulawayo. The big question was who was responsible for the leakage of the staple to the street.
We have to state most clearly that in saying this, we aren’t convicting Mr Chimakira and his subordinates of corruption. We are simply saying he headed a depot where suspect activities were taking place and those allegedly responsible, including him, have been suspended without pay and benefits pending hearings.
The people of Bulawayo, who are hungry and are frustrated at not finding subsidised roller meal on the formal market, but have to spend larger amounts buying it on a cash-only basis in an economy that is severely short of cash, must be encouraged by the swift action taken by the taskforce and GMB to investigate allegations of irregularities at the local depot.
They want to see how the hearings of the five will go and what verdicts would be arrived at. The people of Bulawayo, we believe, want any of the five who will be found to have diverted subsidised roller meal to the black market while shunning the legitimate retail sector to be punished severely. Such punishment should lead, not only to their firing, but also to criminal proceedings being instituted against them for we cannot have a few abusing their offices to enrich themselves while condemning the majority to hunger.
As we reported yesterday, the Zimbabwe Anti-Corruption Commission (Zacc) has been alerted about the goings-on at the GMB Belmont depot. We have seen how Zacc has been working to rid the country of corruption — the high-profile arrests, efforts to seize corruptly-acquired assets and so on. We therefore expect Zacc to swing into action in relation to the GMB Belmont depot report.
However, we note the unavailability of subsidised roller meal in the retail sector is a national challenge. In Harare, Gweru, Masvingo and other places the product is readily available on the black market, rarely in supermarkets. This tells us that GMB Belmont depot is not an isolated case. For that reason, the GMB and Zacc have to widen their investigations to other depots countrywide. Anyone caught on the wrong side should be punished also.
But the GMB is not the only institution involved in the processing and distribution of subsidised roller meal. It is a whole chain that includes commercial millers, retailers, transporters as well as the vendors that we see daily selling the roller meal. A thoroughgoing, sector-wide probe is thus warranted and urgent.
The Government did a great job coming up with the subsidy programme late last year to shield the poor against extortionate pricing of the staple. We and the economically vulnerable majority don’t want the corrupt among us to disrupt the subsidy. That is why we urge the GMB, Zacc and the Government itself to clean up the roller meal distribution chain so that the good intentions of the subsidy programme are not thwarted by corruption.
Indeed, corruption must be defeated so that roller meal returns to supermarket shelves, but periodic price reviews of the product are equally important. Deputy Minister Modi this week indicated that a new price would be announced soon. That announcement should be made really soon. Hopefully, that price will bridge the gap between the official and black market prices while not losing its subsidy thrust.
In addition to the foregoing, maize imports must be intensified. If we have large quantities of maize on the market, millers producing at maximum capacity and roller meal available at a competitive price, arbitrage opportunities would disappear.