The government will withdraw operating licences of shops in Bulawayo that are caught overcharging and give them to ‘patriotic people’, a minister has said.
Defence and War Veterans deputy minister Victor Matemadanda told CITE in interview after a tour of retailers, wholesalers and informal markets in the city on Monday that the high prices of basic commodities were unjustified.
He said he was shocked to discover that some big supermarket chains in Bulawayo were charging higher prices compared to those in Harare.
The deputy minister said shops in Bulawayo had pegged their prices the United States dollar.
Matemadanda described the pricing system at most shops in the city as “robbery” and vowed that the government would come hard on those found to be overcharging.
“What we have seen in Bulawayo is robbery,” he charged. “There are bound to be consequences for anyone who makes a living through stealing.”
Matemadanda, who is also the Zanu PF commissar, said the government had to deal decisively with unethical business practices.
“They must stop gambling with the lives of Zimbabweans,” he said. “When we say no we mean no.
“The people of Zimbabwe elected us to govern this country and at times we have to put our foot down.”
On June 24, the government banned the use of multiple currencies and reintroduced the Zimbabwe dollar after a year of dollarisation.
The shock fiscal reforms pushed prices of basic commodities beyond the reach of many.
President Emmerson Mnangagwa last week said the government was preparing punitive measures against businesses that were caught overcharging, triggering fears of a return of price controls.
Former president Robert Mugabe’s previous government routinely imposed price controls, which were blamed for the collapse of the economy.
Since his elevation after a military coup in 2007, Mnangagwa has pledged that his government will promote a free market economy, but of late the Zanu PF has accused businesses of sabotage.
“Why are business punishing an already suffering population?” asked Matemadanda
“Corruption is destroying this economy,” he added. “We are not going to have sacred cows in the fight against corruption.
“It does not matter whether one is from MDC, Zanu PF, a parastatal or they are in government.
“Corruption is just a cancer that must be dealt with.”
Zanu PF youths a fortnight ago released a list of people they accused of sabotaging the economy through corruption.
The list included former Home Affairs minister Obert Mpofu and Reserve Bank of Zimbabwe governor John Mangudya amid allegations that the names were compiled by Mnangagwa’s inner circle that is pushing a Zanu PF factional agenda.
Matemadanda claimed some wholesalers he toured in Bulawayo tried to remove price tags on products when they saw his team approaching, an indication that they knew what they were doing was illegal.
“That is cruelty and they must be punished for that,” the minister said. “Every shop that you see has an operating license. We will make sure that licenses for those that are overcharging are withdrawn and given to patriotic people.
“The president has said prices must come down and there is no justification for shops to hike prices.”
Zanu PF has been accused of resorting to threats against businesses after failing to restore the economy.