Africa Moyo and Freeman Razemba
Police swooped on National Foods Limited and Blue Ribbon Industries over the weekend amid reports some milling companies are withholding from the market roller meal produced under the special Government subsidy.
Police arrested two retailers in Highfield and Mufakose, Harare, after anomalies were noted in the selling of the subsidised roller meal.
The raids follow allegations of corruption against some retailers who are diverting roller meal to the black market while the formal market is generally starved.
Government has pegged the roller meal price at $70 but it costs $120 on the black market.
It is understood police got a tip-off that National Foods and Blue Ribbon were allegedly holding on to the subsidised roller meal, and visited the two food processing giants’ factories and offices for spot checks.
Both National Foods and Blue Ribbon are contracted to mill the subsidised roller meal.
National police spokesperson Assistant Commissioner Paul Nyathi told The Herald yesterday that surveillance on milling companies and retailers was being intensified to fight hoarding of the subsidised roller meal.
He said police were working with other stakeholders to curtail criminal acts in the distribution of roller meal.
“Checks conducted at Blue Ribbon Foods in Harare and Bulawayo showed that 300 tonnes of mealie-meal were yet to be distributed to the market due to some reasons which are yet to be verified,” said Asst Comm Nyathi.
“At National Foods facilities in Harare and Bulawayo, the situation was different. The company had 1 800 tonnes of mealie-meal at Aspindale Depot, 600 tonnes at Bak Storage, 500 tonnes at their head office, 500 tonnes in Bulawayo, 1 000 tonnes in Mutare and 500 tonnes in Masvingo, all which was ready for distribution to the market.
“However, the company indicated that they were waiting for payment from Government under the subsidy programme.”
Asst Comm Nyathi confirmed the arrests of two retailers at Machipisa Shopping Centre in Highfield and Gwenyambira Shops in Mufakose for discrepancies noted in the way mealie-meal was being sold.
“The Zimbabwe Republic Police therefore takes this opportunity to warn retailers and milling companies that arrests will be effected on those hoarding mealie-meal and those diverting some to the black market.
“Milling companies are urged to report any retailer who would have accessed products and then diverts them,” Asst Comm Nyathi said.
National Foods chief executive officer Mr Michael Lashbrook yesterday confirmed that police officers visited their premises.
“I can confirm we were visited by a high level delegation led by Commissioner Moyo and Assistant Commissioner Nyathi on Saturday. They were happy with the work National Foods is doing in support of the Government maize meal subsidy programme,” said Mr Lashbrook.
“We have no hidden maize or maize meal and we work transparently with Government on the programme. The Ministry of Industry and Commerce audits our deliveries every Monday and have signed off all deliveries to date.
“National Foods has heavily supported the subsidy programme since its inception in early December. We are currently milling our own maize for the programme as agreed with Government.”
Mr Lashbrook said they had just over 4 000 tonnes maize meal and 9 000 tonnes maize in stock across all milling sites as at yesterday morning.
He said these were normal stock levels relative to the current sales levels.
“We have a full maize import programme running using National Foods’ own resources. We are milling in Harare, Bulawayo, Mutare and Masvingo at maximum capacity 24 hours per day 7 days per week,” he said.
Mr Lashbrook denied that fuel shortages were preventing them from delivering roller meal to the market.
He said they were sending 1 000 tonnes of maize meal to the market daily.
Blue Ribbon general manager Mr Yusuf Kamau said: “Yes, police officers visited us. We told them that we are not moving the maize meal because of fuel shortages.
“The country is having the problem of petrol and we are not getting it. We are milling 300 tonnes of maize per day and on the day police came to our offices, we had 400 tonnes of maize meal but we have started taking it to the market.”
Mr Kamau said once the fuel situation improved, the market would get more roller meal deliveries.
Grain Millers Association of Zimbabwe (GMAZ) yesterday said reports that National Foods and Blue Ribbon were withholding subsidised roller meal were a misrepresentation of facts.
“Some millers have the product and are failing to deliver the mealie-meal to retailers in time because of the current fuel crisis which is affecting everyone in the country.
“Also, we have production and deliveries scheduled and it’s common cause that whenever one visits any milling production entity, you would find some stock(s) testifying that there is production taking place,” said GMAZ media and public relations manager Mr Garikai Chaunza.
He said some of their clients —both retailers and wholesalers — were failing to collect their allocations in time due to the fuel situation.