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Is our money safe in this lockdown?

24 May 2020 at 08:41hrs | Views
JUST recently, Reserve Bank of Zimbabwe (RBZ) governor John Mangudya blamed a faceless devil for the economic crisis that a whole new generation now takes as custom.

He was right. There is certainly a devil that is eating into the economy even the little of what is left of it. But he was also wrong. Because Mangudya, quite deliberately, didn't tell us what form that devil has taken all along.

Those that gave him the job then renewed it against all the odds blame sanctions. In fact, they blame everything under the sun except themselves.

From the crucifixion of Jesus Christ to Covid-19. And talking about Covid-19, lots of naughty things seem to be happening, including to depositors' monies. It's up to you to infer who the devil is.

There must be a long finger sticking into people's foreign currency accounts under the darkness of the lockdown.

Depositors who hold nostro accounts are complaining that it's no longer easy to get their money from the banks. The queues are long once again. Some banks are limiting weekly withdrawals to a miserable US$100. In good times, you can legally pull out some US$$5 000 on one transaction.

The unofficial explanation for the shortage of foreign currency in the banks looks suspect no planes are coming into Zimbabwe to deliver imported cash because of the current global lockdowns and the consequent bans on air travel. That looks like a tall fable if that's what the RBZ and government are actually saying. We still have planes coming in with Covid-19 stuff, some of it "donated" by the likes of Jack Ma and Kuda Tagwirei.

We also still have human cargo coming in. The current local lockdown rules haven't exactly banned planes, especially as air business relates to essential services. You don't need a sanitiser to know that. There is a sense of deja vu in this. It's not as though it would be the first time that the RBZ has raided depositors' accounts.

You will remember Gideon Gono's infamous statement in early 2009, just after the formation of the Government of National Unity. After sinking his fingers into the foreign currency accounts of NGOs and business and repeatedly denying it, Gono finally made a volte-face and accepted that the central bank had raided mega-millions from the accounts. It doesn't help that none of that money has been recovered by the depositors.

Gono called for bygones to be bygones. His crocodile tear was that he had taken the money to keep the government running during that hyperinflationary period by giving out the money as loans to line ministries.

Of course, most of that money went into well-heeled individuals' pockets, and it's probable that he was one of the biggest beneficiaries of the scam.

So, he must have saved his breath and avoided pretending like a modern Robin Hood. It's pathetic that Zanu-PF MPs tried to frustrate debate on the forex raids and the other shenanigans that Gono did when he was the de facto prime minister between 2003 and 2009. There was another telling revelation late last year. The Public Accounts Committee (PAC) said that government had robbed forex depositors of some US$3,2 billion prior to introducing bond notes in 2016.

According to PAC, that huge sum had been used to fund quasifiscal activities and government overspending. Mangudya took over from Gono in 2013, so he was there when the US$3,2 billion was stolen from depositors.

That money was taken without parliamentary approval and that makes Mangudya and his cohorts walking jailbirds. Ironically, he doesn't seem to ever consider himself as the devil. Or, at least, the devil's hit man.

And just last month, there were rumours that the RBZ had, once again, raided foreign currency accounts. Predictably, the central bank denied this. They always deny things, but the latest denial won't wash.

It's good to notice that, in that written "panic and despondency" denial, RBZ promised that depositors would still have "unfettered access" to their accounts.

Clearly, there is nothing "unfettered" when the account holders are being limited to a US$100 withdrawal against the US$5 000 weekly limit. So, where could the private forex be going? It's highly likely that powerful individuals within government are using the mask of the now indefinite lockdown to abuse nostro accounts.

Here is a government that is so broke it has been struggling to hand out the social protection money that it promised vulnerable populations at the onset of the lockdown. Here is a government that is failing to buy fuel, to the extent that gas queues have resurfaced amidst a lockdown that is supposed to limit travel. Here is also a government that has promised ZW$18 billion to manage the Covid-19 pandemic, but has not said where it will get that money from, sad as it is that the revenue authority is having sleepless nights trying to figure out how to make people and businesses pay their taxes while the customs chaps are having to spend whole working days basking in the sun.

The issue is, government doesn't have money. But NGOs, embassies, business and individuals have money in their nostro accounts. You don't guess that a hungry wild dog will let the goats sleep in peace, do you? This is a government that has done bad things in the past, and it's difficult to believe that it will not do bad things again.

They could be diverting part of the money to fund the fight against Covid-19. Is that good or bad? Bad, of course. Instead of citing some vague devil as the author of our economic woes, government must find the money to fight the coronavirus crisis without having to raid private accounts. That's fraudulent, so criminal.

You don't know where some people are getting the money to buy Covid-19 donations and what not. That money could be coming from your account. The coronavirus crisis has presented an opportunity for a fast buck to the connected ones. You hear quite frequently of sons of politicians and political cronies importing masks and testing equipment in bulk, and setting up what they call Covid-19 centres. And you don't want to dismiss the possibility they are getting loans from your nostro accounts.

But then, as you are looking away, powerful individuals are helping themselves to your accounts too.

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Tawanda Majoni is the national coordinator at Information for Development Trust and can be contacted on tmajoni@ idt.org.zw.

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