RBZ, kombi operators meet over change . . . ZiG55m notes, coins released to ease travelling RBZ Governor Dr John Mushayavanhu yesterday said the apex bank had released into the market notes and coins enough to meet the needs of the travellers, especially for small change purposes.

Herald Reporter

THE Reserve Bank of Zimbabwe (RBZ) says there is no justification for the domestic market to continue to experience the challenge of shortage of change given that the central bank has released a cumulative ZiG55 million, including small notes and coins, since the new currency was introduced on April 5 this year.

RBZ Governor Dr John Mushayavanhu yesterday said the apex bank had released into the market notes and coins enough to meet the needs of the travellers, especially for small change purposes.

Dr Mushayavanhu said he had a schedule that showed that every branch of the banks in Zimbabwe had adequate stocks of both ZiG notes and coins, yet change remained a huge problem across the domestic market.

He said this when he met stakeholders from the public transport sector at his offices in Harare to share notes on the challenge of small change in the domestic market and explore solutions to address the sticking issues.

The meeting was a first of its kind between the bank and key stakeholders in the public transport sector.

Representatives came from the Greater Harare Commuter Association (GHACO), Harare Youth Transporters Association (HAYTA), Integrated Taxi Rides Association (ITRA), Bulawayo United Passenger Transport Association (BUPTA), Bulawayo City Transit, Tshova Mubaiwa and Vuka Uzimele Transport Association (VUTA), among others.

Ministry of Transport and Infrastructural Development Chief Director — Transportation Systems Development and Management, Dr Loveness Masuka, also attended the meeting, along with the Acting Commissioner of Road Motor Transportation, Mr Dzingai Mafusire.

Dr Masuka said their presence at the meeting demonstrated the Government’s commitment to address the challenges in the public transport sector and ensure a conducive environment for private operators to thrive.

Dr Mushayavanhu said the bank had doubled down on efforts to ensure the wider distribution of notes and coins across the economy to alleviate the challenge of shortage of change, which has been linked to limited availability of cash, especially small denomination notes and coins.

The limited availability of small denominations and coins has resulted in higher costs of transportation and the use of unsafe alternatives such as unverifiable coupons, which pose the risk of fraud to desperate and unsuspecting travellers.

The public is also being ripped off as they are being made to pay ZiG 10 as the equivalent of 50 US cents for short trips yet, given the official rate of about ZiG13,40/US$1,10 equates to roughly 70 US cents.

Even some reputable businesses have seized the opportunity around the limited availability of change in the market to force customers to spend beyond their budget or accept inconvenient alternatives.

However, Dr Mushayavanhu said it was baffling to hear that the market was experiencing problems of small change when the central bank had given all banks enough stocks of small notes and coins to meet the demand from the public.

“As the central bank and as monetary authorities, we are concerned with reports that we are getting where the issue of change has become a topical issue. We are told that fares have been increased to round them up to a dollar for a trip that should cost 50 US cents.

“We are also told that sometimes people are being paired with strangers, so that the two of them pay a dollar, and they will sort themselves out when they disembark.

“Obviously, as monetary authorities this is something that worries us. What we would like to say to you is that we have minted and printed enough notes and coins for the public to be able to pay you what is the equivalent of a journey, which is 50 US cents, if it is a short journey, or ZiG7, if the person is paying in ZiG.

“So, we do not understand where the problem currently emanates from. We have given banks the currency that they need and we expected that you, as the transport operators, would go to the banks and get the money so that you can give your commuters change.

“It was also our expectation that the commuters would go to the banks and withdraw enough money for them to be able to pay for a single fare, but we do not know where the wheels have fallen off.

“Last week we had to introduce additional measures, where we requested Homelink to implement, with effect from today (Monday), what we call swipe for ZiG facility to try and extend and increase the distribution points for ZiG,” he said.

Unfortunately, the central bank Governor said, the arrangement was decontextualised through social media to mean the central bank was trying to disintermediate banks.

Dr Mushayavanhu said the central bank was only attempting to complement what banks were already doing or supposed to do. 

“We have given the banks the money, but the money does not seem to be moving,” he said.

“The next stage is that we should find other means of making sure that the ZiG notes and coins find their way to the public. So, we are really concerned about this issue and we would want to hear from you as the people who are interacting with the commuting public to say; where is it where the wheels have fallen off? What is it that we can do to make sure that we do not inconvenience the travelling public?”

Under normal circumstances, Dr Mushayavanhu said members of the public who require ZiG notes and coins should be able to approach any bank and request cash in exchange for their ZiG balances.

Passenger Association of Zimbabwe national coordinator Tafadzwa Goliati said from the survey they did in many parts of the country, they discovered that the biggest challenge was access to the small notes and coins.

“We did our own survey, including in rural areas and discovered that change is a problem. Also, the ZiG 10 denominations were only available in very limited amounts, the banks did not have the cash as well.

“We think the Governor should send officials (from the bank or Homelink) with the cash for distribution around public transport termini, starting with a pilot project in Harare, and see what the uptake would be like because every day we hear stories about fights over change. 

“Some of the disputes turn fatal and operators at times get assaulted over change disputes. In other instances, passengers are given fake coupons made by unscrupulous people, taking advantage of the change issues, which are rejected by operators over things like incorrect signatures.

“Since authorities banned illegal money changers, who have since disappeared, we request officials from Homelink to go to the bus termini in the mornings and afternoons so that people can get change.

“If change is brought to our doorstep, at the bus termini, starting with Harare, and travellers have easy access to change, this could help promote our currency and end the problem of change. After Harare, we can then go to Bulawayo and other centres because there is no change out there.

“We were in the rural areas recently, for instance in Mutoko, and some of them have never seen ZiG currency. When we showed them the ZiG, some of them were surprised to find out more about how the new currency looked, they said they had never seen it,” said.

Mr Goliati said this was critical to avoid a situation where illegal money changers would resurface to fill in the gaps of limited notes and coins.

Each one of them highlighted the fact that the limited availability of small notes and coins in the market had been the biggest challenge. “When someone has a dollar and wants to pay US50 cents and the person sitting next to them has a ZiG 10, they can exchange that.

“So, US50 cents out in the market is ZiG10, so I think the problem that needs to be addressed urgently is to provide the small notes and coins. That ZiG7 should circulate, if it doesn’t, it means the rate of 50 cents will be ZiG10,” said one operator at the meeting.

Another said: “The transport industry, from history, has played a pivotal role in making sure there is high acceptance of local currency, the challenge only stems from the fact that when ZiG was introduced, immediately after, the banks were only issuing ZiG10 notes, hence there was no change.

“But the moment coins start circulating you find that the problems that you were hearing about in the past couple of weeks will go away. So, I think in general, our industry has always accepted the local currency and will continue accepting the local currency,” the operator said.

Dr Mushayanhu, appreciating the pledge by transport operators to continue accepting and supporting local currency as in the past, said social media contributed to the problem of change from the outset, after creating confusion over the period when the Zimbabwe dollar would go out of circulation following the introduction of ZiG.

He said legally, the previous local currency was to remain legal tender until April 7, 2024, but misleading information on social media caused premature rejection of the currency in the market, causing a serious change crisis.

Dr Mushayavanhu also highlighted that while the challenge of small change persisted, the central bank had put into the market small denominations of ZiG1 coin, ZiG2 coin, ZiG5 coin, ZiG10 and ZiG20 notes.

“What we have not put in the market are ZiG50, ZiG100 and ZiG200. Last week, we had bankers here, what they seemed to be saying to us is that they have the coins, they have the bank notes, but there are no takers for those denominations.

“My challenge to you is that as a bus operator, as a kombi operator, have you tried to go to the bank and say for my change requirements, I want ZiG500 in small denominations so that when commuters come to my kombi I can give them change?”

In response one of the operators said transport operators did not function the same way as retailers who start with a float every morning for change purposes, suggesting making small notes and coins easily available to commuters was the best solution to resolving the shortage of change in the market.

Former Bulawayo East legislator Shorai Zonde, who is a public transport operator in Bulawayo, said most operators in the sector were fully in support of the ZiG currency, but that some banks were not playing ball.

“Change is a problem, someone is sabotaging our money. The other day we went to the banks, I do not want to mention names or tarnish the banks, but they told us they did not have change. I said I would leave the change at the bank after they said I should open an account and they would put the change in the bank account.

“I said no, I need my ZiG cash, but they could not give me. The coins that you are talking about, they never showed us, they only showed us the 10 and the 20 ZiG, the banks are the ones sabotaging the ZiG, to be quite honest,” he said.

The public transport operators implored the central bank to work on improving access to small denomination ZiG notes and coins to end the problem of unavailability of change.

They even suggested that the central bank should consider going to the operators’ major pick-up and drop-off zones within major urban areas and commercial centres with swipe machines and small notes and coins to enable the players in the industry and commuters to get the money.

Others suggested that the central bank should capacitate economic agents such as retailers, who interact every day with commuters, to ensure easy access to small notes and coins.

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