Tuesday, July 10, 2007

Zimbabwe News Update: Government Battles Economic Crimes

Price war: 33 managers in police cells

Zimbabwe Herald Reporter

AT least 33 senior company executives spent the weekend in police cells for paying lip service to the Government directive to slash prices.

The directors are expected to appear in court today while another 1 328 shop owners, managers, sales representatives and companies had been fined for flouting price controls.

Yesterday police said they had acquired enough resources to sustain the crackdown on errant businesspeople and companies until the price madness was tamed.

Police spokesperson Chief Superintendent Oliver Mandipaka said dockets for the 33 managers who were arrested throughout the country since Friday were now complete.

"We are also hunting for others who fled from their companies. We have enough resources to last the distance. We have the manpower and the resources to stretch as far as it takes us until sanity prevails.

"We expect that the courts will complement the crack unit’s efforts by meting appropriate punishment on these people," he said.

Among the 1 328, Chief Supt Mandipaka said, most had already appeared in court where they paid fines ranging between $70 million and $100 million and risked seven days’ imprisonment if they failed to pay.

Bulawayo recorded the highest number of arrests with 414 while Matabeleland North — with 15 — had the lowest. Masvingo had 392 arrests, Manicaland 126, Midlands 122, Mashonaland East 99, Harare 88, Matabeleland South 52, Mashonaland West 25 and Mashonaland Central 20.

Chief Supt Mandipaka said police in Mukumbura had recovered 47 cartons of brown sugar hidden in different parts of Tiyago Store.

Of the 47 cartons, 15 were stashed in a warehouse, 21 in a vehicle while 11 others were hidden at the staff cottages.

A businessman, Guma Chimombe, was arrested in transit to Madziva communal lands, with a tonne of sugar.

In Mashonaland West Province, a butchery operator, Benson Tambadza, fled the premises after police raided the complex. Police recovered and confiscated 490 bags of cement hidden in the butchery.

In Bulawayo, police arrested a general manager with Jaggers, a director of Buchu Butchery, the operations manager of Power Sales and group financial director for Edgars and Express Stores.

In Harare, the long arm of the law caught up with the general manager of Colcom Foods in Workington industrial area, general manager of A and K Fisheries along Leopold Takawira Street, director of Italian Bakery, manager for Blue Ridge Spar, along Harare-Mutoko Road, general manager for Here’s Health Pharmacy, general manager for Little Harrods (an upmarket clothing shop) and the director of St Elmo’s Restaurant. Chief Supt Mandipaka said police had observed that some businesses were complying with the directive during police presence but resorted to the inflated prices as soon as they had left.

"We urge consumers to report such cases, using our police hotlines," he said.

He also warned the public to desist from panic buying and hoarding basic commodities as this was likely to fuel artificial shortages

Chief Supt Mandipaka said police had also targeted car dealers who were selling cars in foreign currency. "This is illegal and police will not spare them.

"We will sustain this operation at all costs to make sure at the end of it there is sanity in the business sector," he said.

He warned commuter omnibus operators against overcharging saying the police would arrest and detain culprits. Last Friday, 17 managers were arrested for failing to display price tags, as the crackdown on errant businesspeople intensified.

Investigations also revealed that some directors and managers in Harare and Bulawayo had gone into hiding while others had deliberately gone on leave in a bid to resist the Government directive.

In Harare, police arrested four directors and six sales managers while in Bulawayo Meikles Stores general manager Robert Slater and six directors of service stations were arrested for overcharging and failing to display prices.


Arrested directors to be charged in personal capacities

Herald Reporters

NEARLY 10 directors and company representatives accused of defying the Government’s directive to reduce prices will now be charged in their personal capacities.

The price monitoring crack team continues checking on compliance and yesterday it visited some companies in Harare which were operating normally.

At the Harare Magistrates’ Courts yesterday, the prosecutor handling the prices cases, Miss Caroline Tafira, revealed the State’s intention while referring company representatives back to the police for amendment of their papers.

Addressing lawyers and the company representatives in court 11, Miss Tafira said the referral of the dockets to the police was premised on the fact that the State intended to have them charged in their personal capacities.

"The dockets have been sent back to the police for amendments so that both the companies and their representatives are charged," she said, as defence lawyers demanded their clients’ liberty.

Companies being charged include TM Supermarkets, City Welcome Supermarket, Italian Bakery, Spar Supermarket, Motorview Car Sales, and City Motor Lane, among others.

TM is being charged with failing to reduce the prices of Key laundry soap while City Welcome allegedly overcharged on peanut butter and Key soap.

Italian Bakery was allegedly caught selling confectioneries above the stipulated prices of June 18 this year.

Two car sales dealers, Motorview and City Lane Motors, are facing charges of failing to display prices of vehicles as required by the law.

The firms are expected back in the court today . Twelve other companies were fined between $3 million and $6 million for flouting the Pricing of Goods Act.

Prosecutor Mr Takawira Godwin Nyasha appeared for the State.

Colcom was fined $6 million on two counts of failing to display prices of pork at their two outlets.

The firm, represented by Harare lawyer Mr Jonathan Samkange, pleaded guilty to selling premium bacon, value bacon, streaky bacon, rindless hotel pork and chopped ham without displaying prices on two occasions.

Company representatives Misheck Ndlovu and Tambudzai Dakwa were yesterday released after spending the weekend in custody.

Synonyms Knitwear Boutique, located at Travel Plaza in the Avenues, was fined $3 million for failing to display the prices of clothes and shoes on sale.

Rollen Supermarket’s Julius Nyerere Avenue branch representatives appeared on two separate records in which they were charged with failure to furnish officials with invoices and not displaying prices of cooking oil and salt.

The shop was fined $6 million for the two offences by magistrate Mr Stanley Chimedza.

Here’s Health Pharmacy was convicted of failing to display prices of drinking gel called Aloe Vera when the inspectorate visited the pharmacy.

The company was fined $3 million for the offence.

K&K Fisheries was slapped with a $4 million fine for selling Thai Rice without displaying prices in Harare while Country Call Chickens was also ordered to pay $3 million for not displaying the prices of chickens.

Meadowveld Private Limited of Hatfield was also fined for selling toilet tissues and soft drinks without displaying their prices.

Brandts Butchery and Easwald Trading were fined $3 million each for failing to display prices of beef and clothes respectively.

Forum Auto Spares was also fined the same amount for not displaying prices of the parts on sale while Food King Supermarket was fined $6 million for overcharging on sugar and failure to furnish the officials with invoices.

The price monitoring crack team yesterday visited Bakers Inn, National Foods and the Cold Storage Company where production was at full throttle.

At Schweppes, which the team visited last week, when The Herald went there yesterday production had resumed following the servicing of machinery.

The firm normally services its machines in winter because demand for its juices and syrups would be low.

"Our scheduled maintenance was finished on time. We should have finished by this coming Friday but we have since resumed our production," said a company official, Mr Demos Mbauya.

Retailers were ordering Schweppes products for resale.

Government has directed that a two-litre bottle of Mazoe Orange Crush be sold at $120 000 in retail outlets.

Mr Mbauya said they had agreed with retailers to comply with the Government directive although as at June 18, the price was $180 000.

"We are in total compliance with Government’s directive to retail Mazoe Orange two-litre at $120 000. However, we are engaging relevant authorities and the Government on a sustainable and viable price for Mazoe," he said.

Mr Mbauya urged consumers to desist from the habit of hoarding and assured them that there would be adequate supply of their products.

A spokesperson for the crack team said they visited the three companies to familiarise with the production process and appreciate how they work.

He said at Bakers Inn, production of bread was at full throttle with the company producing about 90 000 dozen per week while the situation was the same at National Foods and Cold Storage Company.

CSC was facing a shortage of slaughter stock, which the company attributed to some farmers withholding their animals following the price reduction.

The companies pledged to work together with Government to find lasting solutions to price distortions.

Police yesterday said the crackdown would continue.

"We will not stop until sanity prevails in the country. So those who have not yet complied should do so," police spokesperson Chief Superintendent.


Noczim ups fuel supplies

Herald Reporters

THE National Oil Company of Zimbabwe yesterday increased fuel supplies to commuter omnibus and long distance bus operators to ensure that they slash fares in line with the Government directive to freeze prices of all goods and services.

Most commuter and long distance bus operators had defied the directive to reduce fares, saying they were not getting subsidised fuel.

The operators had also used the astronomical price escalation of spare parts as the major driver of fare increases.

However, the Government has since slashed the prices of vehicle spare parts.

Commuter omnibus operators are now required to charge $10 000 for a distance of 10 kilometres or less, while the fare for a distance of between 10,1km and 20km should now be $15 000.

Commuters travelling distances of between 20,1km and 30km should pay $30 000 while those travelling more than 30km should be charged at the rate of $700 per km.

The Government has also called upon all urban transport operators, including taxi operators, to comply with the directive.

A Noczim official said fuel supplies were being increased to all service stations countrywide.

"We have increased our supplies to our traditional service stations that sell subsidised fuel and we will continue to supply them until the situation has normalised throughout the country," the official said.

In a snap survey in the central business district yesterday, some filling stations had started selling fuel at $60 00 a litre as per the Government order.

A Total service station along Nelson Mandela Avenue and another one along Simon Mazorodze Road were among those that were selling fuel at the reduced price.

Extreme Oils managing director, who only identified himself as Mr Asif, said they had started selling fuel at $60 000 per litre.

"We have begun selling our fuel in compliance with the Government directive and we continue to do so," said Mr Asif, whose service station along Nelson Mandela Avenue operates under the Total franchise.

Chaos and disorder reigned as scores of motorists jostled to buy fuel at service stations selling at the reduced price.

Mr Asif said police should assist them to maintain order while they serve motorists as some even blocked part of Nelson Mandela Avenue.

At a Total service station along Simon Mazorodze Road, motorists started flocking from around 8am to buy the cheap fuel.

Another service station at the corner of Albion and Mbuya Nehanda streets was also selling the cheap fuel but others who import on their own were not selling.

It is suspected that the filing stations were withholding the fuel to evade the Government directive.

A motorist who declined to be named said the crack team should also raid these service stations and order them to sell the fuel.

"They have the fuel but they are just withholding it. They are keeping it for speculative purposes. Why is it that it just disappeared when Government directed that all prices be slashed?" the disgruntled motorist said.

Police yesterday warned omnibus operators not complying with the Government’s call to slash fares, saying they would mount 24-hour roadblocks to check on unscrupulous operators who get cheap fuel but do not reduce fares.

Some commuter omnibus and other public transport operators are reportedly still charging the old fares of between $40 000 and $60 000.

Others take advantage of peak periods to increase fares, charging up to $120 000 for a single trip to areas such as Chitungwiza.

"Some of the operators, in protest at the stipulated fares, have withdrawn from plying their routes," said police spokesperson Chief Superintendent Oliver Mandipaka

"It would not be proper for them to withdraw because of the fares. We expect them to give service to the general public and adhere to stipulated prices," he said.

Several people in and around Harare were yesterday morning stranded, especially in the high-density suburbs, after operators withdrew their buses.

A few conventional buses, which obtain Government subsidised fuel, could be seen plying their normal routes.

Another police spokesperson, Superintendent Andrew Phiri, also urged the public to supply them with either the names of the drivers and conductors who would still be overcharging or the vehicle’s registration number and the route the commuter omnibus operates.

"We will not hesitate to arrest them and they should adjust their fares accordingly," he said.


Chiefs endorse President’s candidature for 2008 poll

Municipal Reporter
Zimbabwe Herald

CHIEFS have endorsed President Mugabe’s candidature in next year’s election and backed the Government for the crackdown on price increases.

The traditional leaders declared their support for Cde Mugabe at a two-day seminar organised by the Council of Chiefs, which began in Harare yesterday.

The council’s president, Chief Fortune Charumbira, said President Mugabe was the only candidate they wanted to contest and win next year’s presidential election.

In an interview on the sidelines of the seminar, Chief Charumbira, who had earlier addressed the seminar calling for the endorsement of Cde Mugabe, said the chiefs were in agreement that the President was the only leader acceptable to them.

Traditional leaders are custodians of culture and are held in high esteem in their communities which respect and adhere to their rulings and guidelines as authoritative.

"We are saying the man is a fighter for the identity of Africans, Zimbabweans in particular, a strong leader, a man who is capable of leading the country. We are in support of President Mugabe," said Chief Charumbira.

He said because President Mugabe fought for the liberation of Zimbabwe and has withstood Western pressures to recolonise Africa, Zimbabwe in particular, he should be given another chance to lead the country.

Chief Charumbira said the chiefs were also supportive of the Government’s efforts to curb the rapidly escalating prices of basic goods.

The chiefs discussed a number of issues such as the harmonisation of presidential, parliamentary and local government elections, and the attendant changes to the Constitution.

Zanu-PF has already endorsed Cde Mugabe as the party’s candidate for next year’s election.


MDC talks collapse

Herald Reporter

TALKS between rival MDC factions that have secretly been taking place, have reportedly collapsed over serious differences on candidates for next year’s elections.

MDC faction leader Professor Arthur Mutambara finally let the cat out of the bag at the weekend in a stinging attack on his counterpart in the rival camp, Mr Morgan Tsvangirai.

Prof Mutambara lashed out at Mr Tsvangirai for frustrating efforts to cobble up a unity pact between the two factions by April this year.

Mr Tendai Biti led the negotiating team for the Tsvangirai faction while Prof Welshman Ncube led the team for the Mutambara camp. The two hold the positions of secretary general in the two camps.

Spokesman for the Tsvangirai faction, Mr Nelson Chamisa dismissed the claims, saying he would not waste his time responding to falsehoods.

"We are interested in dealing with problems Zimbabweans are facing, that is our focus. We are interested on how to rescue the country from the problems bedevilling it. These are falsehoods, mendacity, distortions and lies," said Mr Chamisa who is also Kuwadzana Member of the House of Assembly.

Prof Mutambara took great exception to remarks attributed to Mr Tsvangirai at a rally in Marondera where he was quoted as saying: "I have argued against attempts to pick up individuals for specific party positions. That process cannot be regarded as uniting the party. Such a process is insincere and leads to fresh political setbacks."

In his statement, Prof Mutambara said both factions had agreed in their series of meetings not to contest presidential elections against each other, preferring the Tsvangirai camp to field a candidate with the Mutambara faction taking over the vice presidency should the opposition win next year’s elections.

Mr Tsvangirai was not comfortable with the arrangement, alleges, Prof Mutambara, as he wanted to appoint another vice president so that there were two vice presidents to cater for the faction’s incumbent vice president, Ms Thokozani Khupe.

"The Tsvangirai formation wanted the ability to appoint more than one national vice president so that its own vice president, Thokozani Khupe, could be appointed vice president in addition to the nominee of the Mutambara formation," said Prof Mutambara in his statement.

A meeting held in April this year also agreed that in the event of an MDC victory in the elections, both factions would contribute an equal number of members to its "Cabinet" and share nominations in constituencies.

"A seven-page written agreement was drafted by an independent lawyer who attended the meeting.

"That draft agreement was adopted by the leadership of the Mutambara formation. It then became apparent that the agreement had not been adopted by the Tsvangirai formation and as a result, the undertaking to announce the establishment of the MDC coalition by the end of April could not be fulfilled."

Prof Mutambara said a code of conduct drafted by the two factions’ negotiating teams in September last year had agreed that both camps’ presidents and secretaries general sign it and jointly address a Press conference in its support.

After the September meeting, Prof Mutambara, Prof Ncube and Mr Biti signed the document but Mr Tsvangirai was reluctant to do so, only to sign it later under pressure but declined to attend the joint Press conference, a position he holds to date, alleged Prof Mutambara.

"The failure to publicly launch the code of conduct then undermined the negotiation process between the two formations and indeed delayed the holding of the third meeting which was to discuss the prospects of unifying the two formations," he said.

The third meeting was then held towards the end of November and representatives from the Tsvangirai faction announced in the meeting that they were attending it in an informal capacity as a decision had been made by the camp’s national executive to include members who were against unifying the factions.

Negotiations came to a head when it was agreed to set a team of neutral people to investigate the cause of the split and particularly how to address intra-party violence.

"The negotiation process then got bogged down. In early February 2007, the mediator met Morgan Tsvangirai and was advised that he saw no point in pursuing the negotiation process any further. As a direct result of the statement, the Mutambara formation’s negotiation team effectively stood down," said Prof Mutambara.

The MDC split in October 2005 on whether or not to participate in Senate elections.

Mr Tsvangirai, who lost in a secret ballot, was advocating a boycott of the polls and attempted to unilaterally impose his will, leading to the split of the party.


Sadc secretary, staff visit Zim for retreat

Herald Reporter

SADC executive secretary Dr Tomaz Salomao and staff from his office were in Zimbabwe for a four-day retreat that began on Thursday and ended on Sunday.

Dr Salomao was the first to arrive in the country last Thursday and was followed by his team 24 hours later. The Sadc team left for Gaborone on Sunday.

Diplomatic sources said the visit by the Sadc team, which was welcomed by officials from the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, was strictly a retreat.

The Sadc executive secretary was in March this year mandated by the regional trade bloc’s leaders to study the economic situation in Zimbabwe and craft a package to help Harare overcome the illegal economic sanctions imposed by the West.

Dr Salomao has so far visited Zimbabwe twice and it is understood that he is currently compiling a report on the team’s findings.

Last week’s visit could have been an opportunity for the team to compile its report.

Dr Salomao made a courtesy call on Foreign Affairs Secretary Mr Joey Bimha and other Government officials last week.

"Dr Tomaz said he chose Zimbabwe for his retreat with his staff and he said he was more comfortable with coming to Zimbabwe for the retreat. To us this is sign of confidence in our country.

"This means the executive secretary has indeed confidence on the economic prospects of our country because they moved around on their own without any official escort," said a Ministry of Foreign Affairs official.

The Sadc leaders who met in Tanzania in March this year asked Dr Salomao to assess first-hand the situation in Zimbabwe and make recommendations to the 14-member body.

During his two official visits, Dr Salomao met Minister of Finance Cde Samuel Mumbengegwi, Reserve Bank Governor Dr Gideon Gono, Minister of Economic Development Cde Sylvester Nguni and other senior Government officials.

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