INDUSTRY and Commerce minister Sithembiso Nyoni this week toured tuckshops in downtown Harare and discovered what was already a public secret that the bulk of these enterprises are owned and run by foreigners.

For the past decade or so, these tuckshops, which are in fact massive grocery shops and warehouses, have become a major threat to the country's formal retail businesses in many ways. Chiefly, they have been slowly pushing formal businesses out of the game, yet they are hardly contributing to the fiscus because many of them being illegal, do not pay taxes.

All they are doing is to grab money, which is largely cash in US dollars and siphoning our forex back to their countries which we hear include Somalia, Burundi, Ethiopia, Zambia and the Democratic Republic of Congo. This is worsening the depletion of forex circulating in the local market. Little wonder we keep going in circles as far as the availability of foreign currency in our economy is concerned.

Our diaspora relatives are, for example, pumping into the economy huge amounts in forex — reportedly nearing US$2 billion annually — the bulk of which is being spirited away by these tuckshop owners as the money being sent by our relatives abroad is mainly spent on basic commodities such as groceries.

We, therefore, believe this is a serious matter which government must urgently address. Speaking during her tour of the tuckshops, Nyoni said: "Who gave you the authority to work without legal documents? You are breaking the country's laws. Why are you permitting them to work because this is a reserved sector? So, how did they get the right to work in the reserved sector?"

In fact, government has been aware of this unwelcome scenario for ages and has been threatening to take action against the illegal operations but it all turned out to be hollow threats.

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If government is at all serious about reserving that sector for Zimbabweans it should not even be wasting our time asking questions. It should simply act and ask questions later.

Go to any of these countries and see if foreigners are allowed to work without the prerequisite documents. There is nothing like that. So, why is our government allowing these strange arrangements to persist when it is draining all our money from circulation?

We are afraid to say, lip service is getting us nowhere. Government needs to immediately act and bring back sanity to our retail sector.