By Staff Reporter
HARARE-PRESIDENT Robert Mugabe’s cash-strapped government—whose credit rating has long plunged through the floor—has decided to use middlemen to import the desperately needed maize from neighbouring Zambia amid fears that any payment made directly to the government of Zambia could be seized to settle long-overdue payments.
Government sources this week told thezimbabwenewslive.com that because of her being a perennial bad debtor, Zimbabwe could not enter into direct negotiations with the government of Zambia, the only country in the region with surplus maize to export.
Ideally this is done at bilateral level, but because Harare owes Lusaka millions of dollars in unpaid grain deliveries, the situation tricky, hence Harare’s decision to hire some private companies to approach Lusaka.
“The situation in the country is already bad both politically and economically, so the government is taking the issue (of maize shortage) very serious because it can lead to social unrest,” the source said.
“The problem that is there is that we cannot buy the maize directly because we owe them a lot of money and we have no capacity to pay them any time soon.”
Zimbabwe still owes Zambia about over $40 million for maize delivered in 2013 in a deal that got the late Zambian president Michael Sata in serious trouble back home, who—after being charmed by President Mugabe during a state visit to Harare—had vouched for Zimbabwe’s capacity to pay. To this date nothing has been paid. This is over and above several other bilateral commitments that Harare has failed to honour.
Middlemen were also used for the 300 000 metric tonnes of maize for which Zimbabwe still owes Zambia. Sakunda Trading, a petroleum firm with strong links to the dreaded Central Intelligence Organisation (CIO) acted as a front.
Grain Millers Association of Zimbabwe chairman, Tafadzwa Musarara—a ZANU-PF member—leads the fronts working to fool Zambians into believing that the maize imports are being done by private sector players.
Said Musarara in a statement issued recently: “GMAZ is about to conclude 600,000 MT GMO free white maize export quota from Zambia, a quantity adequate to provide for the country’s total commercial milling until May 2016. So, they will be no maize meal shortages and prices will remain the same. This is a PRIVATE SECTOR initiative and will be complimentary to the government maize importation program.”
Curiously, Musarara’s figure (600 000 metric tonnes) is almost equivalent to the estimates that the country needs (700 000 metric tonnes) to make it through to the next harvest, making it appear like President Mugabe’s government is playing a minimal role in the fight against hunger.
For years now, private trading in maize has been banned, with only the State-controlled Grain Marketing Board (GMB) being the sole trader. But this was recently changed; with the government announcing that private players would be given temporal permits to buy grain directly from farmers as well as importing it from abroad.
Local farmers are owed over $50 millions in grain delivered to GMB over the past years.
Zimbabwe also owes Malawi millions more for maize deliveries dating back to 2007 when the late former President Bingu wa Mutharika was also charmed by President Mugabe into extending lines of credit to Harare.
For the past 15 years, Zimbabwe—once respected as the breadbasket of southern Africa—has been surviving on a hand-to-mouth basis primarily because of its disastrous land reform programme.