Monday, 18 May 2020

UNDERWEIGHT ROLLER MEAL HITS THE MARKET


Vendors selling roller meal on the black-market are now adding to their crimes by stealing some of the meal before selling underweight packs.

Unsuspecting buyers are already paying around double the subsidised $70 price for a 10kg bag, often having to pay US$4 in foreign currency.

Informal traders use queuers to get stock when supplies arrive at shops. And now buyers of roller meal find they are getting around 9kg, or even less in some cases, as vendors carefully open the bag and scoop out a portion before selling the rest in the resealed bag.

In recent weeks efforts have been made to try and ensure that roller meal is sold in local shops to households, but it is difficult to exclude those who queue, sometimes after being tipped off by friends on the shop staff, to buy bags for resale in the black market.

Information, Publicity and Broadcasting Services Permanent Secretary Mr Nick Mangwana also expressed shock over the fraud.

“We wake up to a 10kg which is actually 9,1kg and a 5kg that is actually 4,6kg. Is this daylight robbery or there is some viable scientific explanation why mealie-meal spontaneously loses weight after being packaged?” he said in a Tweet.

Another concerned Zimbabwean, Mr Gift Ndlovu, said the repackaging fraud was also being done by informal vendors selling other groceries such as rice, sugar and soya chunks. 

“I used to buy rice, sugar and others kumikoto (on the black market) thinking I was streetwise until I found out that their 5kg rice or sugar is actually 3,5kg . . . I now buy straight from the shop.”

An investigation by The Herald has revealed that people are being swindled on the street corners by vendors who are also defying the national lockdown.

The Herald bought three bags of roller meal all labelled 10kg, two from vendors and one from a city supermarket, and weighed them on two scales to ensure accuracy. The supermarket bag from Red Seal weighed exactly 10kg, as expected and as labelled.

The Herald weighed the three bags of roller meal using two different scales confirming two of them were substandard.

A pack with the Grain Marketing Board’s Silo label was bought on the roadside at Chigovanyika shopping centre in Chitungwiza; this one weighed 9,4kg. Careful examination showed there had been tampering.

The other bag labelled “Sunny Roller Meal” weighed 9,6kg. This time the tampering was harder to find, probably because a more skilled swindler had stolen the 400g. 

Swindlers go to the extent of faking their own packaging. Some in Mbare print counterfeit labels and copy packaging so they can repack the maize-meal in a genuine-looking bag after slitting the original bag and stealing a portion.

Established shops not only have their own rules about defrauding customers, but are also liable under the Trade Measures Act to random inspection from staff of the Ministry of Industry and Commerce who have the responsibility of ensuring that products on the market meet the stipulated standards.

But inspectors do not have access to the informal market and even tuckshops are not monitored although they have fixed premises. A tuckshop owner near Lusaka Market in Highfield blamed the scam on poor monitoring and erratic visits by the inspectorate.

“We do not see them here. We only heard of their existence long back but I have never come across any,” said the tuckshop owner.

Industry and Commerce Minister Sekai Nzenza confirmed that inspectors from the Trade Measures department were on the ground checking on compliance with standards and quality of products, bringing their own scales to check.

But she added that the police are responsible when it comes to illegal vendors caught selling wares on the streets.

“We work closely with the Consumer Protection Council and the Zimbabwe Republic Police in our operations,” said Minister Nzenza. Herald

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