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Continuing Offensive Against High Prices, Harare Sets Business Margins

The government of Zimbabwe on Wednesday took its offensive against rising prices to another level, setting markup levels for producers and wholesalers and revoking the licenses of all private slaughterhouses in a bid to control the market in scarce meat.

Trade Minister Obert Mpofu, head of a cabinet task force on prices, told state radio on Wednesday that the government has set the mark-up from producers to wholesalers at 5% and imposed a 10% markup ceiling from wholesalers to retailers.

Mpofu accused private slaughterhouses of halting production and said all processing of meat was to be carried out by the state-run Cold Storage Company – which has been struggling financially itself for some time. Managers of private-sector abattoirs said they had received no formal notification of their obligatory shutdown.

The government also published prices for most basic foodstuffs, fuel and cement.

Consumers were increasingly unhappy about the government’s crash drive to control inflation, saying they must now rise early in the morning to join long queues for basic food items in which there are frequently fights over places in the line.

State agents continued the offensive, arresting managers from OK Supermarkets and retail giant Makro Branch in Harare, which was shut down for alleged noncompliance.

Zimbabwe National Chamber of Commerce President Marah Hativagone told reporter Blessing Zulu of VOA's Studio 7 for Zimbabwe that Harare’s revocation of business licenses was a worrisome development for the business community.

Despite top-level support for the anti-inflation drive, police had difficulty prosecuting some store managers and business executives as the Office of the Attorney General for the second day refused to bring charges which it said remained murky.

Attorney Jonathan Samkange, representing most of the business managers arrested by police, reported that the government is said to have failed to officially gazette the statutory instrument imposing price controls which it announced late last week.

Reached for comment on the controversial operation, Information Minister Sikhanyiso Ndlovu said the government has little to say to the Western media which he accused of bias, and said that Harare will let its actions speak for themselves.

Elsewhere, Zimbabwean HIV/AIDS activists said the prices of antiretroviral drugs have not declined despite the state-imposed price cuts imposed in other sectors.

The state-controlled Herald newspaper quoted Deputy Health Minister Edwin Muguti as saying that Harare wants to extend price cuts to pharmacies, which are said to be charging exorbitant prices for life saving drugs. But some pharmacists said they have complied with the government’s order to cut prices by at least 50%.

One Harare pharmacist, speaking on condition he not be named, told reporter Carole Gombakomba that druggists have adopted a wait-and-see posture.

Executive Director Lynde Francis of The Center, a Harare HIV/AIDS treatment facility, accused pharmacists of profiteering from the sale of drugs - but acknowledged that government-imposed price controls could lead to a shortage of drugs.

More reports from VOA's Studio 7 for Zimbabwe...