Leroy Dzenga, Features Writer
The cost of living in Zimbabwe has been going up owing to inflationary pressure.The cost of living in Zimbabwe has been going up owing to inflationary pressure.
This has prompted the Government to introduce strategic subsidies as a way of giving citizens an affordable option in the face of profiteering by some businesses.
These subsidies are most visible on basic commodities and public transport. The return of ZUPCO buses has relieved citizens whose incomes are not being adjusted in a manner proportional to the rising cost of living.
With the majority of workers in the country earning below $2 000, practical measures had to be devised to ensure commuting remains accessible to many.
It has been a year since the ZUPCO buses were introduced through a franchising system. Despite the early criticism, it appears the concept has stood the test of time.
In a recent interview, ZUPCO acting chief executive officer Evaristo Madangwa promised better service to the country in 2020.
This will always be a welcome promise from anyone leading a public entity, especially one where there are still concerns.
ZUPCO has been a vital cog in Zimbabwe’s household economies and if there were awards for best parastatal for the year 2019, it would win by a margin.
It tried to wrestle back the idea of transport being a public good, which had over the years been left to be a preserve of commuter omnibus (kombi) operators.
The attempt, which is still ongoing, had good first year results.
Zimbabweans now have a public transport service provider they can rely on. While ZUPCO has been providing a good service, there has been the issue of indignity being faced by people as they access this service.
ZUPCO queues are not only long, but very chaotic, which reflects a problem which needs to be eliminated within the subsidy system.
It is appearing as if the low fares are being offset by inconveniences.
The buses do not come on schedule, waiting for them is always an anxious experience for the passengers who are not sure whether or not they will be able to ride home.
As it stands, access to subsidised transport is a case of survival of the fittest as micro-battles are fought repeatedly by those who use ZUPCO buses regularly.
ZUPCO must provide world-class service that would inspire passengers to use their coaches out of choice, not necessity.
Presently, that is not the case, there is an element of struggle attached to using ZUPCO buses which has made it look like it is mainly for the poor.
There has to be pride in using publicly provided transport, it has to appeal even to the most affluent.
But that can only be possible if the fleet is grown, systems are put in place to ensure those with special needs and the elderly are given priority rides.
In addition, there has to be a way, either through an application, short message services or rudimentary WhatsApp platforms coordinated by ZUPCO where bus schedules are well-communicated.
Public transport is subsidised in other countries, but it is far from chaotic, Zimbabwe should draw lessons from them.
In South Africa, although the structure is slightly different, they have metro buses run by municipalities. They rarely do elicit pressure in the same manner that our own buses do.
2019 was the year that ZUPCO made a rebound, a lot of factors were negligible. As with any returning giant, there are (re)teething problems they were bound to face, especially running a franchising model which was not part of their modus operandi before the company crumbled.
They now have the opportunity to gain a market share and tread towards a point of self-sustenance.
With an impending drought owing to climate change culminating through the lack of rain, Zimbabwe has serious food security concerns.
This has resulted in shortage of grain, with the country resorting to imports.
Resultantly, the price of mealie-meal, Zimbabwe’s staple, has gone up sharply.
Sensing potential danger, Government introduced subsidised roller meal maize which has been retailing at half of the new prices.
Many families are benefiting from this timely intervention which has to an extent ensured that even low income earners have access to the food that defines the essence of being Zimbabwean.
Again, like ZUPCO, this subsidised commodity is pushing Zimbabweans towards indignity. A recent visit to a Harare supermarket saw a scramble for mealie meal.
The shop attendant was almost stampeded as buyers tussled to get their hands on the coveted bags.
Most of these people were mothers.
Their impatience was informed by an understanding that the mealie meal usually runs out minutes after being delivered.
Why do subsidised products have to fly off shelves? Why are there intermittent deliveries of these products?
A consistent and sustained delivery can eliminate access anxiety presently being faced by Zimbabweans when they think of subsidised mealie meal or transport.
They are never readily and easily available. As long as subsidies are dominated by chaos, they will not serve their purpose.
The poor, for whom it is intended, may not have the emotional and physical strength to withstand the struggles associated with accessing them.
This opens up room for the domineering to pursue profiteering.
In the case of mealie meal, some are buying repeatedly in groups for resell.
Their business outlook is sustained by knowledge that the subsidies will never be enough for those that need them.
Authorities have to ensure they clamp down on unregistered people selling subsidised maize, they are prejudicing deserving people for selfish reasons.
Those who are trying to make ends meet are failing to get the mealie meal because of greed. Strategic subsidies are central to the country’s structural realignment.
As with any period of structural realignment in any economy, poor communities are left exposed to economic pressures. This is because curing economies is in itself a painful process, one that needs
Governments to have a plan to cushion its less endowed citizens.
Zimbabwe is no different.
When Finance and Economic Development Minister Professor Mthuli Ncube was entrusted with the national purse, one of his foremost decisions was to ensure the economic bubble the country has been in is popped.
This led to the emergence of cost reflective prices for basics as the economy readjusts.
The previous administration was pursuing a policy which ensured costs of basics remained suppressed at the expense of sustenance.
As a result, Zimbabwe, since the introduction of the multi-currency basket, had a superficial cost of living rooted in short terminism.
From around October 2018, several policies have been tried, consistent with the Transitional Stabilisation Programme which is Zimbabwe’s articulated economic recovery plan.
Some effects of these plans have had inflationary effects.
That, coupled with natural disasters and foreign currency shortages, has made several basics expensive.
The fact that Zimbabwe has predatory businesses does not help matters. Subsidies are important, as they give a chance to those failing to adjust timeously to economic changes.
Their distribution, however, should be in a manner that maintains respect to those who prefer them.
It is something Government should focus on this 2020 New Year.