ALTHOUGH it is not in dispute that Zambia has a liberalised economy and all those who trade in goods and services are free to set their own prices, it is wrong to exploit consumers just because they have no option and are desperate for what is on offer.
This is the reason why we welcome Government’s decision to engage millers and to place caveats on those who will be buying maize from the Food Reserve Agency (FRA) for retail pricing of mealie meal (breakfast and roller meal) and maize bran.
It is unreasonable and unjustifiable for millers to sell a 25 kilogramme bag of breakfast mealie meal at over K100, when a bag of 50 kilogramme maize from FRA is selling at K85. It is from this same bag that the millers also get a 25 kg bag of roller meal which they also peg at over K70 and 19 kg of maize bran which they sell at over K40.
Since the world economy, including that of Zambia, started experiencing shocks, we have witnessed wanton abuse of the free market system.
We have heard traders increasing their commodities even when there had not been any increase in the cost of production.
The argument which is easy for the exploitative traders to cling to is that the United States dollar has appreciated.
While it is expected that in a free market economy traders set prices for their goods and services after working out their costs of acquiring the product and then set a reasonable charge which includes a profit, this has not been so in the Zambian market system.
During this crisis, vendors want to get a more than 100 per cent profit on their goods or services just because the economy is experiencing shocks.
But it must be understood that nshima which is produced from mealie meal is our staple food.
It is abundantly grown in Zambia with three conservative bumper harvests in the past years.
In fact most of this maize is bought by Government using the FRA which uses public funds.
Therefore we agree with Agriculture Minister Given Lubinda’s argument that there is no way Zambians will be exploited over their own maize.
There should be a win-win situation for both the ordinary Zambian whose main meal is nshima and the traders who have to use various inputs to produce the mealie meal and then transport it at their cost.
Although the Government’s decision to set the price of mealie meal points to price control and may threaten a free market economy, it is good for the majority Zambians who depend on nshima.