The extraordinarily sharp increase in fuel consumption between June and November last year we report on today and the mess witnessed with fuel queues cry out for detailed audits by the Reserve Bank of Zimbabwe and Zera, the energy regulator, with Zimbabwe Revenue Authority involved when necessary.
It would be important to know how we managed to consume just under half-a-billion litres more between June and November last year than we used in the same period in 2017. A moderate increase, reflecting the moderate economic growth, would have been expected, but not a 77 percent jump, with some months seeing consumption double the equivalent 2017 month.
There are good records over how much was paid to international oil suppliers, with the RBZ making many of these payments direct and the rest through a handful of Zimbabwean oil companies, all of whom have to follow RBZ accounting rules. Zimra and ZimStats have good of what was imported. Zera knows what each oil company drew from stocks. And there the official trail ends.
Even at this level though, the trail is a paper trail, without actual physical checks of stock. Was every tanker that the record shows crossed the border full of fuel or was it carrying water or air?
But even within present limits, it should be possible to examine the records of every oil company and every service station. This should not only give a good starting point in trying to find out who used the extra fuel, but should also help bring much-needed discipline to the present tight market.
For example, a garage able to show that it received a delivery on Monday and by Wednesday had sold that delivery with 98 percent of the sales revenue listed on its bank statement and mobile money record as payments is almost certainly acting both honestly and ethically in selling fuel.
At the other extreme, a service station that either has no record of any sale through a transfer, and has no fuel in stock, obviously would need further investigation. And there may well be examples of records falling between these extremes. And those investigations need to go back to June last year.
Further research would then be called for to find out what the extra fuel was used for. Zimra might well be interested if it was found that it was used legitimately to grow businesses that have no tax records.
At the same time the RBZ, Zera and Zimra need to introduce systems that make it easier to monitor fuel use and reduce cheating. A lot of modern audit work is not so much digging through a company’s records to see if it has dishonest managers or employees, but giving advice and helping to set up systems so that the basic honesty of staff does not really matter because stealing is impossible, or at least impractical. Human ingenuity, of course, means that this work is continuous. This is why modern pumps at service stations generate so much digital data; owners like to know what happens every hour in the 24 and the same digital records can help the authorities monitor the industry.
The authorities could introduce some physical checks. For a start, every fuel tanker entering or leaving Zimbabwe, and every tanker entering or leaving a pipeline terminal, should go over a weighbridge on entry and departure. This would remove the temptation to bring in an empty tanker and banking the allocated cash outside Zimbabwe.
It would remove the temptation to arrange for a foreign tanker in transit to enter Zimbabwe empty and leave full after draining a service station’s tanks at 1am. It would prevent any curious fiddle involving fuel not being collected at a depot despite the paperwork saying otherwise, so a replacement import would be paid for but never made.
There are many other similar systems that could be put in place.
Audits and safeguards do not assume everyone is a crook. For example every company listed on the Zimbabwe Stock Exchange must follow certain international accounting rules and must be audited by a reputable independent external auditor every year. This is not because the ZSE thinks that the management of every listed company is a bunch of crooks.
The cases of malpractice are very low indeed. But what the rules and the audits are meant to do is ensure the shareholders have an accurate picture of their company’s position so that they can move onto the more important topics of policy, reading markets and generating growth.
For the same reason the RBZ, which supplies the forex, Zera, which is legally bound to ensure the system works, and Zimra, which collect the taxes and monitors imports and exports, all need to be sure that the system works so that we can ensure our scarce forex is wisely spent.
Source : The Herald