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Shortage of basic goods worrisome: CCZ
Paul Nyakazeya, The Herald (Zimbabwe)
July 20, 2005

In a report on the shortage of basic commodities, the consumer watchdog said the supply of bread, flour, cooking oil, toothpaste, bath and washing soaps, milk and mealie-meal had remained intermittent in the last six months.

CCZ said manufacturers of basic commodities interviewed attributed the current shortages mainly to foreign currency constraints and viability problems, "which has seen the majority of them working below 50 percent, and therefore failing to meet the demand for goods".

"Despite the recent review of basic commodity prices, their supply remains irregular. Last month all brands of locally produced laundry and bath soap joined the long list of shortages, opening the floodgates for imported products," CCZ said in the report.

The Consumer Council said it observed that many producers were increasingly evading controlled products by making sure they supplied the market with expensive substitutes, which probably gave them better returns.

"This is being witnessed in the bread, mealie-meal and flour industries where producers now make more expensive bread and fancy cakes at the expense of ordinary bread and super refined mealie-meal instead of roller meal. In the flour industry, cake flour is more available than plain flour.

"As CCZ we do not understand the rationale behind all this.

"Why not just make enough of what everybody eats. Strategies must be put in place to make sure that production scales are tilted in favour of the majority of people," said CCZ.

The consumer watchdog said from the survey, it appeared producers were not happy with the prices of goods they were charging particularly those producing controlled products, which partly explained the shortages.

"Our observations are that for controlled commodities, when they are available many retailers are not charging the gazetted prices with the exception of some major retailers.

"This is cause for great concern. But our main concern would probably be on monitoring goods, while the CCZ appreciates that these are not controlled products, it is perturbed by industry's resolve to increase prices without any form of consultation and notification to consumers," CCZ said.

Proposals for further increases were said to be before the Ministry of Industry and International Trade.

The only agreement to increase price guidelines was made in May when some price guidelines were agreed to. The report said no one had really observed the agreement and continued to charge "unjustified prices".

"Producers and retailers are just charging prices as they deem fit. If you confront some of them over incessant increase they argue that it is because their suppliers had increased prices. This means that business is dialoguing in bad faith.

"Shareholders are not being truthful to each other, and for as long the situation remains like that, the economic turnaround will be a mirage, because people are not genuinely supporting it," the report said.

Furthermore, CCZ said it was worried about the shortage of foreign currency, questioning how retailers were managing to stock their shops with imported products.

"CCZ is not against international trade, it encourages intra-country trade because this promotes competitiveness and choice for consumers, but something is wrong somewhere and needs to be checked," the report said.

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