Fuel shortage may put damper on ZITF

The fuel shortage that has rocked Bulawayo over the past two weeks could put a damper on Zimbabwe's prime shop-window, the Zimbabwe International Trade Fair (ZITF), scheduled to open on Tuesday.

Although ZITF general manager Daniel Chigaru said he had been assured that the problem would be sorted out before the fair, signs on the ground tell a different story.

The ZITF has already made arrangements with two service stations to supply exhibitors and visitors from outside Bulawayo with fuel. The exhibitors and visitors will be issued with fuel coupons by the ZITF management.

Chigaru said he had been assured by the Governor and Resident Minister of Bulawayo, Cain Mathema, that the National Oil Company of Zimbabwe (NOCZIM) would step up efforts to supply fuel to the city.

The main problem, he said, was that NOCZIM only had five garages in the city while the rest were serviced by private oil companies.

Though no reason has so far been given for the current fuel shortage, it is believed this is due to lack of foreign currency.

Another reason could be that some of the fuel is finding its way into neighbouring Botswana, South Africa and Zambia as the local product is now far cheaper than in those countries because of the declining value of the Zimbabwe dollar.

While fuel costs are around three pula a litre in Botswana, Zimbabwe's fuel, even at $3 800 a litre, is less than one pula a litre using the parallel market rate.

The ZITF has already suffered another blow because of the early closure and reopening of schools.

Chigaru said because two-thirds of the fair's visitors were children, the reopening of schools before the ZITF was likely to reduce the number of people who came to the annual showcase.

This would affect especially those from outside Bulawayo who normally took advantage of the school holiday to bring their children to the fair.

The ZITF general manager, however, said since the fair was starting within the first week of the second term, attendances might not be so badly affected because school work would still be light and most children would be free in the afternoon. The ZITF will kick off with two business days on April 26 and 27 and ends on Saturday, April 30.

The ZITF and the Reserve Bank of Zimbabwe (RBZ) have organised an international business conference set for April 27, with the theme "Resource Mobilisation for Investment and Trade".

More than 300 delegates are expected to attend the conference, which will include foreign speakers and participants.

One of the organisers, Eric Bloch, a member of the RBZ's advisory board, said the event would be the first of a series of conferences aimed at promoting domestic, regional and international investment.

Bloch, an investment advisor and director of several companies, said while the general view was that now was not an opportune time to invest in Zimbabwe, this was indeed the best time to enter the country.

He was backed by conference coordinator Syne Chikove, who said: "The world economy is filled with examples of economies that have been turned around from periods of crisis to sustained recovery, growth and development."

Zimbabwe was, therefore, on the right track to declare 2005 a year of investment.

Bloch said he had no illusions or expectations of an immediate response, but stressed that the problems the country was currently facing had to be discussed openly.

He said the aim should be to promote domestic investment in both small and medium enterprises and create conditions to enable multinationals to expand.

"We should not go beyond our borders before we solve problems at home," Bloch said.

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