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President Mugabe Freezes Zimbabwe's Salaries, Services

President Robert Mugabe has used his executive powers to issue a decree to freeze salaries, service charges and to keep professional associations from raising prices. Peta Thorncroft reports for VOA that the new law was put into place Thursday and will impact heavily on a wide range public and private organizations.

The new measures prohibit any increases in salaries or prices as a consequence of actual or anticipated increases in the consumer price index. The prohibition includes salaries, rents, service charges, and school fees.

The measures also include a new pricing commission headed by the president that removes price fixing authority from any other government or private body. From now on, any increases in prices, service and professional fees, or school fees must first be approved by the commission.

In July the government imposed a price freeze on retail goods, which resulted in most food items disappearing from supermarkets around the country.

Now consumers have to rely on the black market, which shoppers say is four times higher than price controls in shops for essential goods, which are no longer available in the formal market.

President Mugabe said that the price freeze was to stop businessmen from sabotaging the economy to effect what he called regime change.

He has since raised some of those prices, but goods have not returned as the supply chain to manufacturers was severely disrupted, according to industrialists in the food sector.

The official inflation rate is currently more 7,600 percent, the highest in the world, but independent analysts say it is actually double that. Even so, from now onwards those who break the price freeze in this latest round face up to six months imprisonment.

More than 7,000 businessmen and women, traders, bus operators and executives have been jailed for short periods for breaking the price freeze. One woman, a small trader has been sentenced to 18 months in prison for failing to cut prices by half.

Economist John Robertson says the government's policy to reduce inflation and revitalize the crippled economy, have failed dismally.

The Harare Agricultural Show, for decades a show case of Zimbabwe's world class commercial and peasant farming sectors is now a shadow of its former self. It opened in Harare Friday. Most of the exhibition halls are empty, but for a few government displays.