IN his first heady days in office, Reserve Bank of Zimbabwe (RBZ) governor Gideon Gono promised so much that those who dared view his optimism as excessiv
e were labelled pessimists and unpatriotic.
Overzealous politicians were more uncouth in their description of those who doubted Gono and called them enemies of the state.
There was hope. After all, his appointment came at a time when the unthinkable had occurred. Zimbabwe had run out of its own money. The economy was sliding at an accelerated rate.
Gono who had rescued the country through several deals — most of them being for the supply of fuel during his time as chief executive officer of the Jewel Bank — was seen as the only suitable candidate for the post.
His appointment came during the era of talk of technocrats running government operations. Gono was not just a technocrat. He came across as a skilled banker with the “ability to think outside the box”.
Gono’s catchword was “failure is not an option”. The whole nation was soon singing in tune and applauding as Gono seemingly left no stone unturned in the fight for economic turnaround.
Fast forward to four years later, and with one year left on his first term of office, the situation is totally different. The cash crisis is gripping.
Not that he has not tried but that his efforts have not yielded anything tangible.
The crisis rages as inflation reached 14 840% in August.
Long winding queues for money have become the order of the day.
Gono’s decision this time has made life much worse for Zimbabweans through the cash crisis.
He has really disappointed on the cash issue which he could have otherwise handled better. His aloof attitude has not been helpful at all.
He has refused to inject more money into circulation. He reckons that most of the money has disappeared from official circulation courtesy of cash barons and parallel market dealers.
Gono said he would watch from the sidelines and would not intervene in the cash crisis which has worsened.
Instead he said he would launch Operation Sunrise 2 to introduce a new currency and force the illegal dealers hoarding $30 trillion for speculative purposes out of business.
That was three and half weeks ago. Now as we approach the halfway mark in December, there has been neither the new currency nor any update by the central bank.
The queues have worsened. In the first days of the crisis, queues for the Realtime Gross Settlements (RTGS) were small.
Now they are as long as queues for cash.
It is not surprising to find that many Zimbabweans are yet to access their November salaries. And now December salaries are about to be deposited, and people are still queuing daily to get their monies.
In most cases they queue in vain. It is grim.
One just has to imagine the trillions in lost productivity as millions queue for worthless Zimbabwe dollars.
Gono revealed in November that he was sitting on $20 trillion of printed $500 000 bearer cheques which are yet to be issued. He said he was not ready to issue them.
Already the US dollar rate on the parallel market has started going down, from highs of $2,2 million for the greenback to $1,5 million on Tuesday. But this is just the cash rate; the parallel market rate continues to rise and currently stands at over $4 million on the RTGS facility.
Monetary authorities need to understand that bank transfers or cheques do not pay for commuter transport. It is cash that runs people’s lives here.
No commuter bus operator accepts RTGS.
Speculation has been that starving the market of cash will bring down inflation. It appears to be succeeding, but assuredly this is only a cosmetic solution.
It only serves to defer inflation.
Hard times bring a lot of introspection. And to many Zimbabweans, this introspection has brought the harsh realisation that while Gono may not be the reason they are suffering he certainly is not helping things.
Cash availability is a responsibility of the central bank. The buck stops with him as the governor.
People need answers why they have to spend valuable time in queues.
It’s a serious issue. Most people are getting $5 million per day, money enough for a trip back home and a loaf of bread.
In most cases they would have to borrow more money to come back into town for another $5 million.
Some are on the verge of being evicted from their homes because they have not paid their rentals. If this is not enough to worry a central bank them what will?
It’s bad enough that people have to queue for basic commodities but for them to be forced to wait for hours to get their hard-earned cash is another thing.
The time has come for the governor to redeem himself and show us that there is still a side to him that is human first and foremost and a central banker, secondly.
We would not want to believe the entire team at the central bank is incompetent, would we? Or to believe that indeed Gono has failed?