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Bank managers come under pressure

Ngoni Chanakira

THE cash fiasco seems to have taken a new twist as bank chiefs allege they are now being arm-twisted by political heavyweights needing money for their financial obligations abroad. <

Speaking on condition of anonymity fearing victimisation, some bank heads confirmed that the money crisis was more serious than was being openly admitted even by the Reserve Bank of Zimbabwe (RBZ).

The officials alleged that some ministers were visiting bank heads seeking foreign currency or local cash for their obligations at a time when the country was facing serious shortages.

They said failure to comply was resulting in some of them being labelled members of “the opposition”.

Zimbabwe’s major opposition is the Movement for Democratic Change (MDC) which government regularly accuses of sabotaging the economy in a bid to topple President Robert Mugabe’s 23-year-old rule.

The officials said representation had been made to President Mugabe to remove some banking heads deemed members of the opposition.

Several ministers have family members including their children based in first world countries such as the United States, the United Kingdom, Australia and South Africa studying at prestigious universities.

Back home however the same ministers continuously give the Western countries regular tongue-lashings, accusing their governments of sabotaging Zimbabwe.

The ministers, who also operate offshore accounts, are allegedly bullying bank managers whenever it is time to pay up the fees for their offspring.

Zimbabwe is facing a foreign currency shortage caused by low exports and dwindling inflows from all sectors of the economy such as agriculture, mining, tourism, as well as manufacturing.

The bankers said another worrying development on the financial crisis was that the RBZ was dishing out the same amount of funds to all commercial banks yet their requirements differed.

They alleged that this scenario was leading to a scam within the banking sector where some banks were now “selling” money to clients because their allocation was more than they needed.

On the other hand, it was leading to bad blood developing between some leading banks and their top clients who required large sums of money especially for wages at monthends.

The bankers said the cash crisis was being further worsened by the fact that Fidelity Printers and Refiners (Pvt) Ltd, an RBZ subsidiary, were experiencing nightmares trying to print money for the financial sector.

The RBZ promised to inject $24 billion into the collapsing financial sector but this was proving extremely difficult because the Zimbabwe Electricity Supply Authority (Zesa) was introducing loadshedding in Msasa, regularly disrupting operations at the mill.

A Fidelity official yesterday confirmed that load shedding had been on and off in Msasa, including at the printing firm, and this had led to stoppages to the print run.

Zesa introduced load shedding because suppliers were reducing supplies to Zimbabwe citing the country’s failure to make timely payments to them.

Mozambique’s Hydro Cahora Bassa (HCB)’s supplies were curtailed from 400 megawatts to 250 megawatts for peak period.

The company has also given notice to terminate its supply contract unless a payment plan is put in place.

South Africa’s Eskom now demands advance payment for their power and have classified Zesa an interruptible customer due to payment problems.

Eskom is now charging a 12% penalty per month for defaulting on payments.

“We have had load shedding, but the last time was about a week ago,” the Fidelity official said. “However, I think arrangements have now been made whereby we are being spared by Zesa because of the serious need for money.”

Zesa is facing problems paying its US$109,7 million arrears to South Africa’s Eskom (US$11 million), HCB (US$22 million), Zambia’s Zesco (US$4 million), and the Democratic Republic of the Congo’s Snel (US$5 million).

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