By Andrew Kunambura
Several companies that were last week named as having externalised foreign currency have approached government challenging the list which has strained the relationship between authorities and business.
On Monday last week, President Emmerson Mnangagwa released the long-awaited list of alleged looters and externalisers which government said had failed to heed its 14-week amnesty to return millions of dollars that were funnelled out of the country.
Government said there is still $827 million stashed offshore.
However, yesterday business said it had approached the Reserve Bank of Zimbabwe (RBZ) to clear themselves as they had been “wrongly” put on the shamed list.
The companies want the RBZ to publish an accurate list showing their status in the same manner that government handled last week’s “expose”.
Confederation of Zimbabwean Industries (CZI), a conglomeration of big businesses and the Zimbabwe National Chamber of Commerce (ZNCC) will meet with the RBZ and ministry of Finance officials tomorrow and on Thursday, respectively.
“Trading issues were mistaken for externalisation. It’s not possible that all those companies could have externalised funds. The companies have supplied us with documents indicating that were simply exporting or importing but the transactions could not be processed on time for various reasons and the bank thought it was externalisation.
“For example, if a payment for import or export has been made for 90 days and there is a delay, it could easily be mistaken for externalisation. We have companies which have those issues; whose payments were overdue.
“Remember Zimbabwe has a poor credit rating and when you are exporting for example, the foreign partner will only pay when they have received the goods,” CZI president Sifelani Jabangwe told the Daily News.
Jabangwe said at least 40 companies had approached CZI with documentation indicating that the RBZ mistook their import and export transactions for externalised funds.
“These companies have adequate documentation which we will submit to the RBZ.
About 40 of them have approached us and we are finalising their issues today (yesterday) and tomorrow (today) and on Wednesday. We will sit down with the RBZ so that we can clear ourselves,” Jabangwe said.
ZNCC president Divine Ndhlukula said their meeting with RBZ and Finance ministry officials will be held on Thursday.
“I know a number of companies who are not externalisers but were wrongly implicated. Some transactions happened a few years back and they have told us that they worked with banks that went bust and could not recover their monies.
“So we have organised a meeting with the RBZ and the ministry of Finance so that we can discuss this openly. Some corporate lawyers will also be present at the meeting,” said Ndhlukula.
President of the Confederation of Zimbabwe Retailers (CRZ), Denford Mutashu, said his organisation was also preparing to engage the central bank over the issue.
“The CRZ supports government initiatives on externalisation because it bled the economy of the much needed foreign currency. Those that engaged in the practice should comply and return back the money to the RBZ.
“However, all retailers and wholesalers who feel they were wrongly included on the list should approach our offices as we are engaging with authorities,” he said.
In December, Mnangagwa announced a three-month moratorium on people who externalised foreign currency — which he said would help the government to recover some of the money that was stolen during former President Robert Mugabe’s controversial rule — as he bid to shore up the stuttering economy.
The naming and shaming of the alleged looters has triggered stinging responses from both business and legal experts who claim it had holes which could potentially attract lawsuits.
Government has said those who have queries should approach the RBZ but nonetheless it was going ahead with prosecution of those that it things it has nailed for externalising forex.
Zimbabwe is currently in the grip of a debilitating economic crisis largely blamed on years of mismanagement and corruption by Mugabe’s government.
Since assuming office in November last year — on the back of a military-assisted intervention — Mnangagwa has embarked on a spirited campaign to end Zimbabwe’s international isolation.
The 75-year-old Zanu PF leader has so far played nice with the Americans, other Western powers, as well as Russia and China. DailyNews