Troubled and hardworking minister of Energy Fortune Chasi has been on a crusade to start the introduction of electric cars. Through social media the minister has talked up government plans to introduce infrastructure to support electric cars and the cars themselves. The responses to the ministers ideas have however not been anywhere near positive as Zimbabweans are quick to remind the minister just how precarious our electricity situation is in the first place among a host of other challenges.
Among the many ideas put forward by the minister were charging facilities being installed at government service stations. In reaction to this Zimbabweans had many questions for the minister including the affordability and availability of these cars to Zimbabweans especially given our severely inflation eroded incomes. Questions were also raised about the struggles with stage 2 load shedding and how increasing demand on the grid would affect the situation.
The most interesting responses came from those who highlighted the real issue, Zimbabwe has fuel shortages and talking up an alternative energy source, forward thinking as it may be, as a distraction to the real problem would not solve anything but create another problem. A perfect example of this is Ecocash. Initially birthed as an alternative means for getting money across the country it soon became solution to our cash shortage problems. As time went by and the monetary got many updates which brought more complexity the system of selling cash became common practice and is now a cancer that Ecocash seems to be battling in effectively.
Fuel is not exactly in short supply the world over, yes it’s a limited resource and its supply is manipulated by world oil producers in order to maintain a decent price for the essential commodity. Zimbabwes problem when it comes to fuel is a pricing problem. ZERA reduced the price of fuel last week due to changes in price at the source (Free on Board, FOB). Aside from that anomaly prices have gone up every week as the exchange rate has also depreciated. I highlighted the problem with ZERA using an exchange rate that mirrors the rate for cash (which is lower when buying US dolars) while mandating that retailers must sell in cash (which attracts a higher rate when buying dollars).
While the fuel pricing situation is certainly better than it’s ever been it is nowhere near good enough yet. A liberalized fuel system would take care of the shortage problem. However it is not without its flaws that must be seriously considered. While people are becoming accustomed to the weekly fuel price announcement by ZERA a liberalized system would mean much quicker exchange rate responsiveness. Given the utility of fuel the changes would ripple through the economy very fast given the electricity shortages and fuel being the reliable alternative for industry.
The danger of proposing new and seemingly forward thinking ideas in an attempt to avoid having difficult conversations about the underlying problems has only one outcome and that is what we have seen in cash situation. Let us first have honest conversations about the real issues and then consider moving forward.