Embattled Zimbabwe delays inflation data

Zimbabwe on Monday delayed the release of inflation data and said it might not be available ”for a while”, fuelling concerns the government had failed in its bid to hold back runaway prices.

President Robert Mugabe has made the battle against inflation the cornerstone of his government’s effort to reverse a deep economic slide that many blame on mismanagement and his controversial policies, including seizures of white-owned farms.

But Zimbabweans have seen the price of milk, bread and other basic items, when available, continue to rise this year despite the anti-inflation campaign.

Analysts had expected annualised inflation for October to jump to 15 000%, from nearly 8 000% in the previous month.

Zimbabwe’s Central Statistical Office (CSO) was due to issue the figures last week. CSO acting director Moffat Nyoni, however, said on Monday they were not ready because commodity shortages had affected the collection and calculation process.

”I am afraid the figures are not yet ready, and they may not be available for a while,” Nyoni said.

”We have some problems — a computing problem — in that we have to find a formula of measuring prices of goods, some of which are not available on the [formal] market and which are in short supply in the economy,” he said.

Nyoni declined to comment on a newspaper report last week that suggested the year-on year inflation rate for October had risen to a record 14 840,6% from 7 982,1% in September.

The delay followed a government-ordered price freeze in June, which was designed to protect Zimbabweans from runaway inflation. It led many businesses to stop stocking shelves, worsening the food shortages that have been a part of daily life for millions for several years.

”Inflation is out of control, and I think the authorities are again getting uncomfortable with releasing the official figures even when these are already in dispute,” said John Robertson, a leading private economic consultant in Zimbabwe.

The CSO previously has rejected suggestions by international officials that it is bowing to government pressure to suppress inflation figures that would put the 83-year-old Mugabe’s government in a poor light.

An International Monetary Fund official accused Zimbabwe’s government last year of releasing data that did not accurately reflect the economic situation there, particularly by using price controls to artificially distort inflation.

Zimbabwe’s government has cited inflation and corruption as the biggest stumbling blocks to efforts to revive an economy devastated by chronic shortages of food, fuel and foreign currency, soaring poverty and unemployment of about 80%.

Mugabe blames the crisis on sabotage by political opponents at home and abroad, who he says want to punish him for seizing thousands of white farms and redistributing the land to black Zimbabweans.

Agricultural production in the once prosperous southern African nation has fallen sharply since the land seizures, forcing Mugabe’s government to rely on food imports to feed the country. – Reuters

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