Mugabe: Zimbabwe Price Controls to Stay
Tuesday, July 24, 2007; 3:07 PM
HARARE, Zimbabwe -- Government-imposed price controls will remain because they bring relief to Zimbabweans from "inexplicable and astronomical" price increases by profiteers, President Robert Mugabe told lawmakers Tuesday at the opening of parliament.
A government order last month to slash prices by around 50 percent to curb inflation has led to acute shortages of staple foods, gasoline and many basics, including matches needed during daily power outages.
Official inflation has soared to 4,500 percent, the highest in the world, but private financial institutions estimate the real inflation rate is closer to 9,000 percent.
Mugabe said the government was committed to its program to restore "price stability."
Foreign investment, loans and development aid to Zimbabwe have dried up amid years of political and economic turmoil after Mugabe's government began often-violent seizures of thousands of white-owned farms in 2000.
Western nations have imposed travel restrictions on Mugabe and ruling party leaders to protest the country's human rights record.
Blaming Western economic sanctions, erratic rains and profiteering for the country's economic crisis, Mugabe said the new session of the Parliament would address legislation relating to the economy, including price controls. It will also take up changes to constitutional and electoral laws ahead of parliamentary and presidential elections scheduled for next year.
"Our economy continues to face adverse challenges emanating mainly from illegal sanctions and successive droughts," he said.
Opposition lawmakers have criticized price cuts as a ruling party tactic to shore up support ahead of next year's balloting.
Mugabe arrived at parliament in an open-backed vintage Rolls-Royce limousine, escorted by a ceremonial guard of honor on horseback carrying regimental flags and wearing white, colonial-style pith helmets. Judges, viewed as appointees who favor the ruling party, wore scarlet robes and horsehair wigs at the opening ceremony, which was broadcast on state television.
Across the central Harare square, shelves at a leading downtown supermarket were bare of cornmeal, meat, bread and other staples for the third straight week.
At least 3,000 executives and business managers have been arrested and fined in the clampdown on alleged overcharging. Most of those arrested _ among them several of the country's top businessmen _ have been briefly jailed in filthy police cells.
Eight shop owners jailed Monday were to appear in court for sentencing Wednesday after state prosecutors refused to grant them bail and called them economic saboteurs, the state-run Herald newspaper reported.
Fuel shortages have disrupted commuter transport services. Industry Minister Obert Mpofu has ordered fuel to be sold at half the cost of importing it.