- The Washington Times - Thursday, May 17, 2007

HARARE, Zimbabwe — Zimbabwe’s annual inflation rate surged to an unprecedented 3,714 percent at the end of April, the official state newspaper reported yesterday, as the government set up a commission to try to bring prices down to single-digit levels.

Prices more than doubled last month as shown by a 100.7 percent increase — the highest on record — in the consumer price index calculated by the state Central Statistical Office, the Herald newspaper said. In the past year they increased 36-fold.

The Herald said President Robert Mugabe on Monday signed into law regulations to enforce wage and price controls through “comprehensive price surveys and inspections,” with a penalty of up to five years in jail for violators. The ultimate aim would be to bring inflation into single digits.

In recent years, the government has tried to freeze prices for corn meal, bread, cooking oil, meat, school fees and transportation costs with little success. Socialist-style controls have driven a thriving black market in scarce commodities.

Sugar, unavailable in regular stores for weeks, fetches at least 10 times the government’s designated price at a dirty market in Harare’s impoverished western township of Mbare.

Drivers of minibuses, the country’s main commuter transportation, routinely ignore government directives on fares, citing soaring black market prices for gasoline. Commuters questioned at police roadblocks often lie about the fare they paid to avoid being thrown off the bus and left stranded.

The independent Confederation of Zimbabwe Industries estimates most factories across the country are running at about 30 percent capacity or less, and countless businesses have shut down, fueling record unemployment of about 80 percent.

The worst economic crisis since independence in 1980 is blamed on corruption, mismanagement and the often-violent seizures of thousands of white-owned commercial farms since 2000 that disrupted the agriculture-based economy.

Increases in the price of fuel, transportation, vegetables and meat contributed to April’s surge in the consumer price index, which was double the increase in March of 50.3 percent, the Central Statistical Office said, according to the Herald.

The government warned Wednesday that the price of bread is likely to rise because only a fraction of the normal wheat crop has been planted.

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