The state-run Herald newspaper reports that the government will be scrapping the subsidy soon. That is very good news indeed. The bad news is that they are replacing it with cash disbursements which will be made to vulnerable communities. If we have learnt anything, it is that for some reason more often than not grants, donations and cash payments never reach the vulnerable who need these the most. Look at Cyclone Idai donations and payments.

The price for a 10kg of roller meal is $70 ZWL which is around 90 US cents on the black market and just over a dollar based on the new official average rate. That all sounds good and very affordable but there here is been one big problem: persistent and permanent shortages. If you want this super-cheap mealie-meal you have to wake up very early in the morning or rely on someone who is connected. Well, that’s all coming to an end.

Treasury has availed resources amounting to $813 110 525 towards the implementation of the new roller meal subsidy.

However, given the administrative burden associated with implementing the maize roller meal subsidy, Government is introducing a targeted cash transfer system to vulnerable households. This system will result in the phasing out of the roller meal subsidy as beneficiaries will be given cash to purchase the roller meal on their own.

Finance Deputy Minister Clemence Chiduwa

Roller meal subsidies were stupid, cash payments are stupid

The trouble with the roller meal subsidy is that it was stupid pure and simple. It is so stupid to the extent that often those who are supposed to benefit from it never do. Instead, a connected cabal of businesses people and those with seeming criminal immunity often engage in black market deals where the roller meal is then sold for $4.00 USD or even more depending on the day. The cartel bosses then share the spoils.

Essentially these cartels have made it their business to steal from the government. The bulk of the money that proudly rolled off the Deputy Minister’s tongue is safely in the pockets of cartels right now. There were no controls whatsoever! The government just dolled out cash, there was no way to determine who bought what. Other shops tried to use physical mealie-meal registers, these where doomed to fail and they failed.

NGOs have shown how transparency can be achieved with a computerised register of beneficiaries, a card keeps track of what a person has received and so on. There is a centralised database which makes manipulation harder. Knowing the government the cash disbursements will be equally (perhaps deliberately) stupid as well. There will be zero accountability.