LUSAKA Province minister Bowman Lusambo carried out an operation around supermarkets in Lusaka in the company of police officers, apprehending people who were buying mealie meal in bulk. The minister also ordered police to pick up young citizens who were found with bags of mealie meal, saying underage buying of mealie meal is not allowed.

“I want to assure the residents of Lusaka that if arresting mealie meal shoppers who buy in bulk is harassment, then I will continue harassing them until we normalize the supply of the commodity, because the issue at hand is artificial. Our young men and women are being used by traders in the compounds to come and buy cheap bags of mealie meal from chain stores like Shoprite and other chain stores and they are giving them K5 and K10, respectively, and when this mealie meal goes in the compounds, the mealie meal is fetching at K175 up to K216,” said Lusambo.

This abuse of power and abrogation of rule of law needs to be stopped. This is barbaric! Even under Dr Kenneth Kaunda’s UNIP government, this was only possible under a State of Emergency. In a State of Emergency, your normal laws are suspended and regulations made by the President under the Preservation of National Security Act override the ordinary laws. Zambia is not in a State of Emergency, in a State of Emergency you can have power to regulate the markets and control supply of commodities. Without a State of Emergency, government or any single minister cannot start storming business houses, shops and supermarkets giving orders in the manner that Honourable Lusambo is doing.

What power has Minister Lusambo got to walk into Shoprite and start giving directives as to who should be allowed to buy goods and in what quantities? Shoprite is a private enterprise, government has no right or authority to go to Shoprite and regulate how they should sell their merchandise. These supermarkets are not public institutions, they are private, they are at liberty to sell whatever they wish to sell and to whoever they wish to sell. That decision to say “one customer should buy one bag of mealie meal” can only come from Shoprite management and not government. That is lawlessness.

These are the things we have been singing to the PF government. Please don’t destroy this country with this disgraceful style of governance! We cannot behave as if we are in a failed State. These are signs of a failed state. You don’t own Shoprite, learn to respect private enterprises.

And Shoprite must also be ashamed for subjecting their customers to bullying from disgruntled thugs in government like Honourable Lusambo. How can you say “these customers are too young to buy mealie meal, it’s bad manners” who says if you don’t head a household then you are not eligible to buy mealie meal? This is absurd, and it’s especially foolish because it was only targeted at the vulnerable customers who did not have the clout to take on their oppressors. Further, what if someone runs a restaurant?

Honourable Lusambo and his appointing authority must know that this mealie meal demand is being driven by market forces. If people want to cash in, let them cash in, there is no law against that, it’s a free market. If you want to control that imbalance in the demand, pass the necessary law or regulation to govern that situation. You cannot just wake up in the morning and walk into a supermarket and start harassing poor citizens who are buying mealie meal from their own hard earned income.

What is causing panic buying of mealie meal is simple. You don’t need an economist to explain this, and we are concerned that the PF is treating the symptom, forgetting the underlying causes of this problem, which is failure to manage the produce. This is a simple indicator that there is a problem with supply. If mealie meal was in excess supply, nobody would be buying in bulk because there would be no fear of the commodity running out. That’s how the law of supply and demand works.

So this is a sign that government has failed to put in place measures that would ensure that the supply of mealie meal meets the expected demand. This is a sign that government has failed to secure food security. If we had a responsible government, the storage of maize should have been adequate. With the dawn of Climate Change, there is no doubt that rainfall patterns will be unpredictable, and the crop harvest would not be guaranteed. A government that is effective will plan ahead of time and store enough grain.

The problem with food security has not been failure to produce maize, it has always been a problem of storage. That is what has been Zambia’s problem with food security. Food that is produced by our hard working farmers goes to waste. Look at the silos that president Kaunda left behind, they are empty and abandoned. A responsible government would rehabilitate those silos and use them to store grain.

The PF government must also remember that there are lesser people every year who are interested in growing maize because of the market controls. You are fixing the prices of maize and farmers have realised that the price at which you order them to sell their produce is not commensurate with cost of production. There is no way a farmer will continue to plant maize which will be sold at a loss. Farmers who are growing maize now prefer to sell across the border where there are reasonable prices.

We insist that what Honourable Lusambo is doing has no backing of the law. It is pure lawlessness and thuggery of the highest degree. This is what happens when you have cadres and jerabos superintending over government policy.