Perpetual Inventories, When Scarcity and Paranoia Come Together in State Enterprises

The solution to preventing theft in community canteens is to have a perpetual inventory. (14ymedio)

14ymedio bigger14ymedio, Juan Diego Rodríguez, Havana,5  June 2022 — The crisis hits all of Cuba, but the state sector suffers twice. In addition to the lack of raw material, looting by employees is added. The most recent solution to reduce these robberies has been to apply the so-called “perpetual inventory” in the community canteens in Havana, which means supplying the goods daily instead of storing them for several weeks.

In El Cubano, belonging to the Family Care System (SAF) and located on Aguiar Street, between Obispo and O’Reilly in Old Havana, “since this week the perpetual inventory has already been put into practice,” says a worker in the canteen, which is mainly attended by the elderly and people with disabilities. “Now, the products that are going to be consumed will enter the warehouse daily, not like before, when they came in for two weeks or the month,” he explains.

“This is a diabolical invention and, although we knew that the concept of perpetual inventory or perpetual warehousing, as it is also called, existed, it had never been implemented here. We have a worker who now, every afternoon, has to go by bicycle to the central warehouse of the Gastronomy Company, to inventory the merchandise that will be cooked the next day,” he explains.

“There they must give him the products for the number of people who eat in our place every day, about a hundred.” The employees of El Cubano attribute the measure to the new municipal director of the SAF, who previously worked in the Ministry of Commerce. “This is overcontrol for the super-poverty that exists,” the source says.

“This means more work and more paper; now we have to make double and triple delivery entries but they don’t give us paper. In the first column we have to put the products, another for the price, another for the quantity that came in and another for what went out. With this new mechanism there is nothing left, it remains at zero.” For three days, the dining room has only sold “rice and a small piece of chicken, in addition to pea soup.”

In Cuba there are about 76,175 people registered with the SAF who attend 445 canteens of this type on the island. Users of this service often complain about the poor quality of the food, which often lacks spices, oil or fat. The deterioration of the dishes is due, to a large extent, to the looting of products by the employees themselves.

Although the variety of ingredients has decreased significantly in recent years, SAFs maintain a basic offer that includes rice, some grains and a little animal protein that is often diluted with croquettes or tasteless hamburgers. Prices range from 1.55 pesos for a ladle of black beans to 2.15 pesos for a boiled egg or a peso for a small roll.

Although the prices seem economical compared to other gastronomic premises, the majority of SAF consumers have minimum pensions that don’t go beyond 1,500 pesos. Most of them are also elderly people who live alone and have to pay out of pocket for electricity, transportation and other expenses.

“This is a very sensitive system, because any failure directly affects people who have no other chance of putting some food in their mouths,” admits another employee of El Canciller, a SAF near the Havana neighborhood of La Timba. “People believe that we steal and that’s why the food is so bad, but here I have colleagues who even bring seasonings from their house so that lunch tastes like something to the old people.”

The employee doesn’t look favorably on the new measure of limiting the number of products they receive on a daily basis and also having to account for the use of these foods. “What it is going to bring is more bureaucracy, and we won’t be able to plan how to stretch some ingredients,” he laments.

“If this is designed for more control, we will go crazy, and the food quality will be even worse, because the day that we don’t get protein, we won’t have any for lunch, whereas now we always try to intersperse and distribute what we have in the warehouse during the week to achieve a menu as varied as possible.”

“More workers are planning to leave because it’s not worth the effort to come in, even less so because salary payments tend to be delayed in Gastronomy. The administrator has already started the paperwork to retire from the career because he says he can’t work like this,” he adds.

However, the reason for applying this method differs if staff members are asked. While in places such as El Cubano and El Canciller workers have been informed that this measure prevents the diversion of goods and maintains more effective control over resources, sources from the Ministry of Agriculture and the state company Acopio, interviewed by this newspaper, point to other reasons.

“We can’t know how much food we’re going to get to take to Gastronomy and then to the canteens in a week, much less in a month,” warns an Acopio official linked to the supply of these community premises. “We aren’t getting much merchandise, especially rice, beans and meat, so we’re going to distribute it little by little.”

Problems with fuel also aggravate the situation. “We have less than half the trucks we used to have to bring merchandise to the city, because the lack of parts and fuel are affecting us a lot. When we get a little something we have to deliver it the same day, it’s like that.”

Translated by Regina Anavy


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