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Bond Notes won't solve Zim economic crisis

Economy
Pretoria - Zimbabwe’s cash crisis is not getting any better and the International Monetary Fund says that its new local currency, known as Bond Notes, is not going to fix its chronic financial problems.

Zimbabwe ran out of cash - the US dollar - from April last year, so it withdrew high denomination notes from the market and introduced about R1.3 billion small denomination locally-produced cash - Bond Notes.

Central bank governor John Mangudya said the money for this new currency was backed by Afreximbank in Cairo.

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A currency dealer counts wads of bond notes outside a bank in Harare

He also said the new cash would be deposited as a 5 percent bonus to exporters. During the present Spring IMF meeting in Washington, African director Abebe Aemro Selassie said a whole package of reforms was needed to get Zimbabwe out of the crisis.

“There’s a limited amount of foreign exchange inflows coming in and no monetary policy tool. So, they are in a difficult circumstance right now. Going down this one (bond) note route, in and on itself, will not address the challenges that the country has," he said.

“So, it’s very important to have a more comprehensive policy package, which also addresses the fiscal challenges the country faces, a lot of the structural reforms that have to be done,” he said.

Mangudya, insiders say, listens carefully to the IMF and has now said he will not, for the moment, release any more Bond Notes even though he has only released about half the number he said he'd print.

Zimbabwe also dramatically restricted imports - mainly from South Africa - as it did not have enough money to pay for them.

To secure new loans it also finally repaid the IMF, but has still failed to settle its long-standing loans to the World Bank and the African Development Bank.

Finance minister Patrick Chinamasa has not yet been able to get political clearance from the ruling Zanu-PF to fulfil his 2015 commitment to the IMF to cut the size of the public service and other public spending which consumes more then 90 percent of government revenue.

Since the Bond Notes arrived in the banking system late last year, US dollar notes have largely disappeared.

The central bank accuses some of hoarding US dollar cash and last week placed a cap on cash-back facilities offered by some major retailers such as South African chain Pick * Pay which owns and runs several supermarkets in Zimbabwe.

Unable to get cash from ATMs or even from their banks, many shoppers pay for their goods at the till using their bank cards and then add extra dollars to the slip, and the supermarket gives them notes back.

Now the central bank has told retailers to limit that facility to about R250 a time. Banks are only allowed to provide customers with a maximum of R2600 a week from their accounts.

Read also: Zimbabwe rejects adoption of rand

Many employers pay workers via telephone banking or via their bank cards. So bank statements show a US dollar amount, but depositors cannot withdraw it except in small amounts from time to time.

Zimbabwe had good rain this summer and the government says it has produced enough to feed the country in the next year so it will save foreign cash on food imports. Tobacco is also selling now, and so some foreign cash is coming into the country but the cash drought is not going to be solved any time soon.

Economists say there is no easy way ahead for Zimbabwe which wants to borrow money from the IMF until, in particular, it pays off about $600 million to the African Development Bank.

Harare had to abandon its own currency, the Zimbabwe dollar, in 2008 because it lost value after years of hyper inflation.

Use of the US dollar, economists say, make Zimbabwe’s exports expensive in a region where most currencies are pegged to the rand.

PRETORIA NEWS

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