Editorial Comment: Fuel: Government has done its part
Yesterday we carried a story regarding the parlous fuel situation in the country. Over the past few days, the situation has deepened to crisis levels that had not been experienced lately: queues have lengthened exponentially and motorists have become desperate due to the shortage and erratic supplies of the commodity.
A sign of this rising desperation are images of men in fuel queues engaging in brawls at fuel stations as emotions boiled over. For the first time this week police were called in to restore order.
The sad reality is that this need not have happened and this was the gist of our story.
Government, through the Reserve Bank of Zimbabwe, has played its part. It has consistently provided foreign currency for industry players to purchase fuel.
Every week, Government is releasing several million dollars for the commodity so that people can drive around and producers in the different sectors of the economy can do their work.
We highlighted in our story how it appeared consumption of fuel in the past year — particularly between June and November — had risen dramatically, yet vehicle queues also kept growing.
This is the story that is yet to be told — and one which is in the national interest — the evident mismatch between what has been allocated to the fuel sector and what Zimbabweans on the ground are experiencing. And Government is taking the flak for it. Several theories have been advanced; from suppliers delivering empty tanks or water while pocketing money, to the fuel being siphoned out of the country.
We are not going to indulge in the conspiracy theories and outright gossip. While Government has been diligent in releasing money for fuel, the challenge is to make sure that motorists get it.
It is only fair and logical that since we part with hundreds of millions of dollars to order something, we ensure the said goods are received and available.
Government must carry out audits and follow ups on fuel companies and hold them to account.
This is taxpayers’ money, and so far indications are that about 45 percent of foreign revenues go to fuel imports. That’s not small change for a country such as Zimbabwe where there are so many pressing challenges, top among them drugs and medicines. We cannot keep on putting in so much money into private consumptive expenditure, especially on petrol.
Government cannot allow its noble efforts to be abused or to waste while giving political ammunition to opponents.
The discord between the sums released to buy fuel and the situation on the ground must be explained and corrective measures taken.
Additionally, Government should take measures to ensure it does not waste foreign currency on fuel.
A cursory look at the demand and consumption of fuel shows that a majority of it goes to luxury use, with small vehicles dominating.
It follows that where petrol is concerned, Zimbabwe is happily burning away fuel on non-productive use.
Strangely when there are shortages, it is these small fuel-happy cars that create a sense of crisis and chaos, along with the bad optics.
We suggest that Government must institute measures that discourage the happy and prodigious use of fuel while promoting productivity.
A move to remove subsidies on petrol and incentivise mass public transport and actual productivity on the mines, farms and manufacturing needs to be considered.
It will save us lots of money.
If Government raises the cost of burning fuel for luxury it will have much less to worry about.
We maintain that Government has done well to procure fuel. But that has not been matched by a sense of responsibility, an issue which must now interest the authorities to ensure austerity means also reducing forex expenditure on consumptive fuel.