|‘Consumer activism in Zim weak’|
|Thursday, 21 June 2012 12:00|
THE challenge of anaemic consumer bodies and business organisations has always been an underlying issue in Zimbabwe that has, however, again been put in the spotlight by the motor vehicle licensing debacle.
Typically lobbyists seek to protect the general public or the constituents whom they represent against such concerns as profiteering, disease, unemployment, and market fluctuations among others.
Consumer activist tactics can include boycotts, petitioning the Government, media activism and organising interest groups.
Common Market for Eastern and Southern Africa Business Council secretary-general Mr Trust Chikohora says there is need to improve lobbyism in the country insofar as some decisions by companies and public service providers were detrimental to the health of the local economy.
“It seems that consumer activism in Zimbabwe is rather weak. The service culture in the country needs to be improved. The value proposition needs to be enhanced in order to improve our competitiveness as a country,” he said.
What was also highlighted by the licensing debacle was feeble lobbying on the part of business for their interests, with individuals making more impact than institutions.
The Zimbabwe National Road Administration recently ruffled motorists’ feathers by backtracking on its earlier announcement to extend the licensing deadline to June 30 from the original set May 31.
Such a move would naturally have repercussions in terms of inconveniences to the general public, but perhaps more significantly to the business com-munity.
Interestingly, one of the very few and loudest voices attacking the ill-advised move came from an individual — human rights lawyer Ms Roselyn Hanzi — who is seeking an interdict against Zinara and the police from arresting and ticketing motorists without new vehicle licences until June 30.
Ms Hanzi made the application at the Harare High Court two days after Zinara directed police to crack down on unlicensed motor vehicles after the authority had scrapped a 30-day deadline extension it had granted motorists.
The Zimbabwe National Chamber of Commerce, as one of the several business representative organisations in the country also made an attempt to raise voice over the matter by issuing a statement. But it was a lone aggregated voice, as other lobby groups such as the Consumer Council of Zimbabwe and the Confederation of Zimbabwe Industries among many others chose to remain silent.
This is notwithstanding the fact that the decision by Zinara would have a negative impact on the operations of businesses as police are typically expected to crack down on unlicensed vehicles.
In other countries effective lobby groups would have calculated the anticipated or actual loss of business resultant from Zinara’s shifting of goalposts.
It is to the extent of weak consumer and business activism in the country, that players such as Zesa Holdings can implement near-unilateral tariff adjustments within a short space of time.
However, a similar move in other countries even in the region is accompanied by extensively consultative and time-consuming engagements.
Additionally, despite CCZ’s continued voicing of concerns over unjustified price increases for basic commodities, a review of foodstuff prices since the beginning of the year shows that there has been a lot of stealth pricing.
For example, a 2kg packet of sugar has gone up from around US$1,80 at the beginning of the year to around US$2,50 at present.