Rumbidzayi Zinyuke Manicaland Bureau
Government has said the amendment of Statutory Instrument (SI) 122 of 2017 was necessary to protect consumers, as well as give manufacturers time to restock for the festive season and beyond. The amendment allows companies and individuals with free funds to import commodities that include animal oils and fats, baked beans, body creams, bottled water, cement, cereals, cheese, coffee creamers, cooking oil, crude soyabean oil, fertiliser, finished steel roofing sheets, wheat flour and ice cream.
Speaking at a breakfast meeting with captains of industry in Mutare yesterday, Industry and Commerce Minister Mangaliso Ndlovu said Government could not ignore the consequences of the price madness that had resulted in people buying commodities in large quantities for resale at exorbitant prices.
“We put these measures to try and protect our industry, protect the jobs that have been created over the past few years,” he said. “We will not underestimate the damage that was done by speculative buying, people were buying in large quantities and then selling the goods at exorbitant prices outside the shops.
“We have to make it clear; the instrument itself did not seek to ban imports. It was an instrument meant to monitor the local industry’s ability and capacity to supply the domestic market as well as the export market. So, in cases where there are constraints in supplying the domestic markets, we have to also be in a position to protect the consumer.
“We have to be in a position to protect the manufacturers themselves. With the measures in place, hoarders will be starved of a market and this will push down prices that had spiralled out of control. It also gives manufacturers time to properly restock and prepare for the festive season and beyond.”
Minister Ndlovu said the activities of the past three weeks had forced Government to confront the sustainability of protectionism.
“Before we talk of the conditions, it has to be discussed how sustainable it is,” he said. “We need to give ourselves clear targets to say how do we retool, how we can modernise as industry, so that we are also able to compete. Because we may have the comfort of the domestic market, but we also have to compete on the global market, we also have to consider exporting.
“If we are not confronting issues of competitiveness, it means we may be lagging behind for a while to come.”
Minister Ndlovu applauded manufacturers for doing their best to supply the market at a time when demand had risen to unsustainable levels.
He said Government would continue to monitor the situation until such a time when the fundamentals allowed for the re-introduction of the import control measures.
“When we are satisfied that the country is able to supply again, is able to meet demand that is obtaining, there is nothing that will stop us from revisiting the measures that we took,” said Minister Ndlovu.
He took time to explain some miscommunication that had resulted in confusion at border posts as to when the measures took effect.
Minister Ndlovu toured several manufacturing companies in Mutare that included Tanganda Tea Company, The Wattle Company, Willowton, Mutare Bottling Company and Mega Markets, to understand the challenges they faced.
“Today’s tour was an eye-opener and we are now satisfied that industry is there,” he said. “There is potential for growth. There are challenges, but we can manage them. We now appreciate what needs to be done.”