The Vice-President, the Minister of Agriculture, the Chief Government spokesperson and the Minister of Home Affairs have all ganged up against milling companies and retailers, blaming them for the escalating price of mealie meal. Government has gone further to issue threats and an ultimatum for millers to cut mealie meal prices to mitigate the prevailing hunger situation, which has been exacerbated by the scarcity of maize.
Something is not making sense here. We recall that around January this year, the IDC announced that it has now fully acquired majority shares of Superior Milling Company, which is one of the biggest millers in the country. Now, before we point any fingers at the retailers, before we threaten other millers, let’s look at the price of the mealie meal produced by government itself.
When preparing this editorial opinion, we did not want to speculate. So went to our Facebook page and asked Zambians to tell us how much this government mealie meal called “Superfine Mealile” is being sold in their neighbourhood. On average, people said it was being sold at K135 per 25kg bag in Lusaka, before any transportation costs are added for distribution to Kalomo, Mongu and Senanga. Of course, there were plenty of citizens who didn’t even know that Superior Milling is now owned by the government through IDC, so they accused us of spreading fake news.
Our question now is: why isn’t the government, through Superior Milling, not providing cheaper mealie meal on the market? It is time the government and the IDC made the acquisition of this milling company more justifiable. We have heard the circulating audio where some PF youths are complaining about President Edgar Lungu’s silence on the hunger situation, and we want these youths to know that their complaint is even more justified because the President is actually the chairman of the IDC board. So why isn’t he instructing his own milling company to make sure it stabilizes the price of mealie meal?
If we see the price of “Superfine Mealile” drop to K70 or even less, we will know that government is making genuine efforts while other millers are trying to sabotage the market. This must be easy to do, since the government has the Food reserve Agency under its belt and everyone in government is telling us that Zambia is food secure, meaning FRA has plenty of maize stock which can be channeled to Superior Milling.
We are saying the hunger situation has created a perfect moment for this government to flex its IDC muscles so that all critics of the parastatal mother body can shut up. We would like to believe that companies such as Superior Milling were bought for moments like the one we are currently in as a country. They say charity begins at home, so let them lead by example before they blame any other private milling companies.
Government should not be allowed to spend hundreds of millions buying a company that adds no significant value to the food production chain. Zambians have the right to demand accountability on such acquisitions because it is their money being wasted at the end of the day. We need answers, and in the absence of answers, we will conclude that these acquisitions are bogus transactions meant to siphon taxpayers’ money into private pockets.
We are demanding that at the next Cabinet meeting, ministers should face the President, in his capacity as chairman on the IDC board, and ask him to explain what Superior Milling is doing about the escalating mealie meal prices.
This is why, from the beginning, we have been asking President Lungu to relinquish that position at the IDC board so that he can stand at a distance and provide oversight. His failure to do this has attracted the blame for mismanagement onto his head. The load-shedding by Zesco and the high mealie meal prices speak volumes about his failure. Unfortunately, this failure is only mounting pressure on the PR office of the IDC, which is not responsible for these bad policies.
We don’t want to read statements from IDC on this issue, we want the CEO or better still, the board chairman himself, to hold a press conference and outline what IDC is doing about the meali meal prices and the power outages because industrialisation is one of the key performance indicators for the institution.
Ministers shouldn’t just wake up from slumber and start issuing threats and ultimatums to private businesses. The businessman is saying “this is my private milling company, bought by my own money, I use my own transport to ferry maize and I actually use my own genset to power the milling plant because your Zesco is load-shedding us, so why should I give you mealie meal at K50?”
If government wants private millers to start selling mealie meal at K50, let them start by asking GBM milling to do so, since the owner has gone back to join “tu kabolala tu PF over three pieces of silver at the expense of poor Zambians” (in his own words).