By The Solutions Tower Staff.
On November 28 last year, Reserve Bank of Zimbabwe (RBZ) Governor Dr John Mangudya introduced ‘bond notes’ which are reportedly backed by a $200 million loan guarantee facility from the Afrexim Bank. The introduction of bond notes was intended as a counter measure primarily meant to curb cash shortages which, till now, continue to ravage the country.
As additional measures, the central bank had also announced that as at July 1st, 2016, Zimbabwean Banks would already have started issuing the South African rand and seven other currencies, including bringing on board Real Time Gross Settlement facilities using the bond regime.
Other currencies which were touted as being in the pipeline for introduction in the stock of narrow money were the Chinese yuan, the euro, the British Pound, Botswana Pula, Australian Dollar, the Indian rupee and the Japanese Yen. These currencies were supposed to partner the US dollar.
It should be noted that bond notes were introduced against public will, with many Zimbabweans suspicious that bond notes were a first step towards re-introduction to the much maligned Zimbabwe dollar of the 2008 fame.
Since the turn of the century, Zimbabwe has remained a consumer economy with very little production happening, and the nation has severely relied on imports from South Africa for foodstuffs, chemicals, hardware and clothing. This trend has naturally led to a ballooning balance of payment deficit which had risen to over $2.4 billion by 2015.
Effectively, this means that the country is exporting at least $2.4 billion in hard currency yearly; a situation which has obviously led to the disappearance of the dollar from circulation in the country. Panicking economic actors have also reportedly stashed their money in offshore accounts thereby further fuelling the cash shortages.
Due to the various factors that are militating against the maintenance of a healthy stock of narrow money, ordinary Zimbabweans have been reeling under acute cash shortages; often waiting for hours on end or even days to access paltry amounts of cash; and at times in coins.
While bond notes were introduced as an export incentive and to curb cash shortages, at least according to authorities, their introduction has done little to that effect and long queues persist until now. Moreover, their introduction has bred a new set of financial challenges for financial institutions, business and the transacting public. At the time of their introduction, bond notes had already suffered a still birth, with their pegged value against the green buck already discounted by at least five percent.
Money changers can be seen strewn all over in the streets of Harare, particularly at Copa Cabana and Simon Muzenda (4th) Street omnibus terminuses. This is an indication of a sophisticated and highly organised US dollar mopping that is going on; with large businesses and politicians the usual suspects. Higher denominations of the green back are fetching a higher premium against the bond note and by mid-April, a 50 or 100 dollar bill was fetching between eight and 10 additional bond dollars.
The issuance of bond notes has also severely crippled the capacity of local banks to service their nostro accounts in order to settle their international obligations for payments made outside the country. This situation has led to the strict regulation of international transfers; subject to approval by the RBZ. Traders and travellers who make frequent international payments are often the hardest hit.
The latest wave of cash shortages, in which even the bond notes are said to be disappearing from circulation, has worsened the situation. Several explanations have been proffered to justify the disappearance of bond notes. The RBZ has advanced that cash barons and speculative players are holding on to large amounts of bond notes.
However, it is probable that bond notes have been absorbed into closed localised economies in mining and farming communities where trade with the mainstream economy is minimal. In all the mess involving the shortage of cash, the general citizen has been on the receiving end, with many having to lose valuable time to wait in winding bank queues for meagre cash withdrawals.
Business has also fallen on hard times, and has to now and again apply for foreign currency from the central bank which applications at times never get approved. The bond note regime, therefore, has always been a ticking time, with an explosion expected sooner rather than later.
The bond note, as a surrogate currency has, therefore, failed to achieve what it was intended for; to act as an incentive for exporters. The surrogate currency has also dismally failed to alleviate cash shortages for the transacting public. The currency issue in Zimbabwe has now morphed into questions about the legitimacy of the status quo, including whether the incumbent State President still has the requisite stamina to resuscitate local industry and put the more than two million jobs on the table.
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