THE continued shortage of mealie meal in Petauke is scandalous for the reasons being given do not make economic sense.
Petauke Independent Member of Parliament Emmanuel Jay Banda says the situation is critical and blames the Ministry of Agriculture.
The shortage was initially blamed on smugglers taking the mealie meal into neighbouring Malawi.
But in reality, the shortage was due to the blanket ban imposed by the government that discriminated against the private sector from dealing in mealie meal in the Eastern Province.
The government, through the Minister of Agriculture, Mr Reuben Mtolo Phiri claimed that the private millers were smuggling mealie meal into neighbouring Malawi hence the ban.
The irony of the ban was that private millers were not even allowed to take their produce to the region, which actually contradicts the country’s liberal economic policies.
Moreover, it was only after the Millers Association of Zambia president, Mr Andrew Chintala raised that the government tacitly had a hand in the shortage created through the ban.
If anything, the government should allow private millers and other traders a free rein as demands a free market economy.
According to Mr Banda, the situation has been made worse by the regulation imposed on the traders by Government to ensure they obtain permits when buying the commodity on a large scale.
Mr Banda said while the Ministry of Agriculture was issuing permits to private millers to deliver their products to various parts of the country, it was the Zambia National Service (ZNS) that was essentially monitoring the execution of the enforcement of the permits which was causing serious delays in the delivery of the commodity.
“It is not speculation but it is the truth that there is shortage of mealie meal here. Traders are being asked to get permits in Lusaka for them to order mealie meal. But you know, not all shop owners can manage to travel,” Mr Banda said.
It has been revealed that many traders were unable to obtain the permit as it was not only expensive on their side but that the restrictive regulations coupled with the slow pace at which the ZNS was facilitating the execution of the permits.
It is not fair that the traders were being asked to physically visit the Ministry of Agriculture to get the permit which they deem to be costly because they needed to spend days to access the permit and were being forced to spend more when accessing the commodity.
“What traders usually do is that, they just deposit money in an account for the miller and they only send a truck to load mealie meal and bring it to Petauke, but this issue of getting a permit, it is a burden to traders,” he said.
Government is wrong to impose such harsh restrictions on traders when it should be helping them to keep operational costs down. In the long run, it is the consumer Government is trying to protect who will bear the costs by buying the commodity at a higher price.
It will just be a vicious circle, Government blaming traders for high costs and traders citing the extra costs incurred.
The ZNS milling plants cannot supply the whole country. The private sector must chip in too.
The bottom line is that Government must allow for an even playing field in the mealie meal production and supply chain for sanity to prevail.
As it is, it appears to be politics at play and not business.