By Gift Phiri
There are fresh fears that the country’s dying economy is hurtling towards the debilitating depths of the 2008 hyperinflationary era, as bond notes are now also disappearing from the market.
This comes as United States dollars have almost completely disappeared from the formal market — with the coveted greenbacks now only easily available in the thriving black market.
It also comes as the Reserve Bank of Zimbabwe (RBZ) has ruled out injecting more bond notes into the market, arguing that Zimbabwe’s worsening cash crisis will only improve when the country’s production and export performances improve.
In the meantime, the disappearance of the country’s surrogate currency from the market is forcing banks to give desperate Zimbabweans their cash in coins.
The RBZ introduced bond notes at the end of last year to ease the country’s severe cash shortages, but so far this has failed to satisfy the market’s cash needs.
This has seen banks limiting the amount of money both individuals and companies can withdraw to as low as $20.
So bad has the situation become that desperate customers are also now having to make do with sacks of coins when they withdraw their money.
A bank official who spoke to the Daily News yesterday said the situation had now reached a “critical” position, amid worries that things would worsen.
“We have reached a critical state and we are all praying that something gives soon. Things are bad,” the official said.
Economists have also warned that the country is headed for a major crisis and that the disappearing bond notes are indicative of an economy “in deep distress”.
“The fact that it is so difficult to get money out of banks also makes people reluctant to put their money into their banks.
“With 10 million Zimbabweans each carrying a few bond notes in their pockets, wallets or handbags, 10 million times that number can easily add up the total amount of bond notes in issue,” veteran economist John Robertson told the Daily News.
Another economist, Vince Musewe, also said the limits that had been placed on cash withdrawals were discouraging people from banking their money.
“Because of limits on cash withdrawals, there is no incentive to bank money. So, for example, retailers would rather hold onto their cash.
“The informal sector is not banking either, so very little is going back to the banks, hence the worsening shortages.
“In the case of US dollars, nobody banks them anymore. Huge sums are sitting outside the banking system.
“You then add illicit leakages of export revenues which do not come back to country and you can then easily see the magnitude of the crisis,” Musewe told the Daily News.
Piers Pigou, senior consultant at the International Crisis Group, said bond notes were now also circulating in the informal sector.
“There is no market for bond notes outside Zimbabwe, so I can only imagine the notes are moving into and circulating within the informal economy of Zimbabwe.
“This would not be unusual given the scale if the informal economy,” Pigou said referring to a sector that has been burgeoning, with about six million micro, small and medium enterprises absorbing the bulk of retrenched workers and unemployed graduates.
“It never seemed likely that bond notes could ever provide anything other than temporary relief. But like US dollars, they will seep out of the formal economy . . . just not as rapidly as the Benjamins,” he added.
It is estimated in some circles that more than $7bn is circulating in the country’s informal sector.
Francoise Conradie, an analyst at Cape Town-based NKC African Economics, also said bond notes were not vanishing from the Zimbabwean economy per se.
“The bond notes’ value should be at par with the US dollars’ value, but individuals and businesses do not have confidence in this medium of exchange, and as such the bond notes are losing value.
“This loss of confidence has created the black market where bond notes trade at a discount to dollars,” Conradie said.
Last week, the International Monetary Fund (IMF) said that bond notes had failed to solve the country’s deepening fiscal crisis, further calling for comprehensive reforms.
“Zimbabwe is in a very, very difficult situation, as you know. There is a limited amount of foreign exchange inflows coming in and no monetary policy tool.
“So, it’s very important to have a more comprehensive policy package which also addresses a lot of the fiscal challenges that the country faces,” IMF director for the African Department, Abebe Aemro Selassie, said.
Zimbabwe is deep in the throes of a debilitating economic crisis which has led to horrendous company closures and the consequent loss of hundreds of thousands of jobs.
At the same time, economists have said that poverty levels in the country are skyrocketing, with average incomes now at their lowest levels in more than 60 years — with more than 76 percent of the country’s families now having to make do with pitiful incomes that are well below the poverty datum line.
This comes as Zimbabwe has now been officially ranked as the poorest country in Africa
According to the Africa 2016 Wealth Report, Zimbabwe has been ranked as the country with the poorest people on the continent, with average wealth of $200 per person.
In the report, AfrAsia — a Mauritius-domiciled financial institution which once operated in Zimbabwe after acquiring the now-defunct Kingdom Financial Holdings Limited — noted that back in 2000, Zimbabwe was one of the wealthiest countries in sub-Saharan Africa on a wealth per capita basis.
It listed Mauritius as the country with the wealthiest people, with an average wealth of $25 700 per person. Daily News