Editorial Comment: Change booths will  aid ZiG circulation Dr Mushayavanhu is quite correct, in theory, that the advent of the ZiG1, ZiG2 and ZiG5 coins and the ZiG10 and ZiG20 notes should solve all change problems, even when US dollar banknotes are used for larger cash transactions.

New Reserve Bank of Zimbabwe Governor Dr John Mushayavanhu is at least talking to the right people when it comes to the problems of the small change, most of the major kombi associations, and finding out just what the problems are on the ground.

That meeting appeared to be constructive, with the associations making some very sensible suggestions to get ZiG coins circulating without involving street dealers and other illegal and illicit sources. 

The most useful was for some sort of change booths at terminuses, where passengers and kombi drivers and conductors can make the transfers or swop US dollar notes, and collect the ZiG small change that is needed.

Dr Mushayavanhu is quite correct, in theory, that the advent of the ZiG1, ZiG2 and ZiG5 coins and the ZiG10 and ZiG20 notes should solve all change problems, even when US dollar banknotes are used for larger cash transactions. They should also help sort out the problem of the sorry state of most US$1 and US$2 notes, which are not really fit for circulation, having passed through a vast number of hands.

Again the Governor was quietly confident when the commercial banks bought stocks of these three coins and two notes, a substantial ZiG55 million worth, to issue to their customers when they request change. And some customers have taken the trouble to collect notes and coins, with at least one major supermarket chain now handing out coins rather than asking customers paying with US dollar cash banknotes to choose a ballpoint pen, chewing gum or a small chocolate bar to make up the till total to the nearest US dollar.

But other chains are still issuing their own coupons, denominated in US cents, as small change and other businesses are even using more secure coupons to cope with the shortage of US$1, US$2 and US$5 banknotes in something approaching reasonable condition, that is without tears or scrapes. 

But, when the RBZ made checks with commercial banks, it was found that most of those millions of ZiG coins and small denomination notes issued to the banks were still with the tellers and in the vaults. Hardly any customers are queuing up to collect them by swiping an electronic ZiG transfer or handing over a larger denomination US dollar note. Bank ATM machines are still dishing out US dollar notes, not ZiGs, and in any case an ATM cannot dish out coins.

In many cases, and this would apply to the drivers or conductors of kombis, few people want a large pile of ZiG notes or coins. They rather want just enough for the next trip, or even more precisely want to get their ZiG notes and coins when they arrive at a terminus and have a bunch of passengers demanding change. This is why there was so much enthusiasm for the terminus change booths. The conductor dashing off for change probably wants two or three batches of ZiG7 in coins to make up the US$0,50c change packets needed.

We need to recognise that while kombi owners have formed some very effective and functional associations that are bringing a lot of order to the business and to public transport generally, each driver is largely a stand-alone business person. 

Kombi owners still want their daily rent in US dollars, and service stations still accept only US dollar payments for fuel, a situation that will remain until fuel companies are able to tap the banks for the foreign currency to buy stock. At present, almost all fuel is bought with free funds, most of which comes via the diaspora although that money can pass through many hands before it is spent on a service station forecourt.

This means that a kombi driver does not want to end the day with a large float of ZiG notes and coins, and in many cases probably want to end the day with just US dollar banknotes so they can pay the daily rent charge and have enough cash on hand to buy fuel the next morning when they start work.

At the moment the ZiG10 note is starting to circulate and is being slowly used as a 50c token, although it is worth almost 75c. But to give a fair number of bus and kombi crews in the major associations their due, they not only accept the ZiG10 for a 50c payment, they also hand out the notes as 50c change, if they have one in their hand. Often they do not, so although they shout 50c fares when they pass a bus stop they cannot give change.

The ZiG10 note has started taking the place of the old bundles of 30 Z$100 notes that were being used as a 50c token before the ZiG was introduced and for a few days afterwards, before the usual nitwits who pass on fake news on social media stopped that, and then the smallest kombi fare was raised to US$1. That de facto fair rise had to remain for a month and the US$1 is still the minimum fare, even on short trips, for many of the kombis outside the major associations and for almost all mushikashika. These borderline legals and illegals only accept US dollar notes.

Dr Mushayavanhu, and his senior and even middle-management Reserve Bank staff, probably are never faced with the need for small change, using their own or company cars for transport and buying goods and services with debit cards when they shop. So it has taken a bit of time for them to find out what actually happens on the ground. But Dr Mushayavanhu has had the gumption of asking those who have to deal with this change problem every working hour.

One reason why change booths might now work is that there has been a reasonable, although far from perfect effort, by Harare City Council to reclaim its own terminuses. So touts and money changers are kept out. 

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