There’s been reasonable panic as a result of the announcement by the Ministry of Finance team that importers will be required to declare their sources of foreign currency at the point of entry or risk forfeiture of goods being imported. Yesterday Cabinet met and as has become the norm a post-cabinet briefing revealed the decisions among which was the announcement that individuals and companies with free funds were allowed to import any items without import permits or declaration of source of funds.

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The briefing read by Minister of Information and Publicity Monica Mutsvangwa the statement made clear that both companies and individuals with free funds are free to import foodstuffs without foodstuffs. Many had warned of the potential of the proposed policy by the Ministry of Finance to worsen an already terrible situation. With up to 5 million Zimbabweans expected to require food aid after a disastrous agricultural season with another poor rainfall season expected.

The Minister made it clear that the source of funds need not be declared and that such questions would only be asked if they had reasonable grounds to suspect that a crime had been committed. Purchasing foreign currency on the parallel market is a crime in Zimbabwe. Mrs Mutsvangwa reiterated the purpose was to ensure access to food for Zimbabweans.

Once again the government of Zimbabwe has chosen to play both hero and villain in the space of a few days. While the immediate emotional response would be to welcome the relief that the cabinet meeting has brought for us. An analytical mind might ask if these people are even in the same government. Do they communicate? Was the Ministry of Finance team prematurely making announcements on things cabinet hadn’t discussed? Or perhaps they deliberately did so to gather public sentiment before going ahead with the idea?

Social commentators with a penchant for the humorous have of late been heard saying the government doesn’t have a plan for the nation and have instead embarked on a policy of surviving the next two weeks and working out what to do from then going forward. With moves like this it’s not hard.to see why such theories have taken root.

At a time when retailers are experiencing depressed sales volumes so much so that South African retailer Pep’s parent company has opted to pull out the space is shrinking. Economic growth forecasts have turned to soft economic decline forecasts which have turned to hard economic decline forecasts. A policy that would tighten the import space is undesirable at present. Harkens back to the days of the late 2000s where government though reluctant was forced to allow food imports to rescue a desperate food security situation.

While government attention should be squarely focussed on assisting farmers in light of the difficult season that is expected ahead, among other challenges, it is instead on issues of channelling foreign currency to the formal sector.