THE Zimbabwe Anti-Corruption Commission (Zacc) has instituted a major probe into the operations of the country's EcoCash agents who are being accused of fleecing citizens of their money.
Zacc spokesperson John Makamure yesterday confirmed the investigation to NewsDay, saying: "Yes, we are probing EcoCash agents who are fleecing citizens of their hard-earned cash. Citizens are the complainants. Findings of the probe will be made public.
"EcoCash is assisting us with the investigations. We are looking into the licensing agreements between EcoCash and the agents. We are of the view that the agreements do not allow such unethical business practices. Zacc is going to propose legislation to criminalise such business practices."
EcoCash agents, who are allegedly manipulating the system and selling cash to clients who seek their services, are currently under
In its tweets, Zacc said the central bank would look into the case.
"An investigation has been opened which must determine and charge the real perpetrators behind this rot. We hope that @econetzimbabwe and @ReserveBankZim will also look into this seriously to bring an urgent and lasting solution," Zacc tweeted.
"We believe that in order to effectively fight corruption, all avenues that promote corruption regardless of size must be shut with urgency and we look forward to work with all stakeholders in such scenarios to actively close the pilferage opportunities.
"We are aware that this practice is enabled and supported at a systematic level."
EcoCash said it does not condone any illicit activities by its agents.
"We reiterate that EcoCash does not condone the levying of any unauthorised, extra charges to customers cashing out their money through EcoCash agents, or merchants charging a premium for customers purchasing goods or services using EcoCash," a statement from EcoCash said.
"EcoCash encourages the public to immediately report any cases of over-charging by EcoCash agents to the police."
The Reserve Bank of Zimbabwe (RBZ) yesterday refused to take responsibility for the illegal bond note market, which has resulted in EcoCash agents taking advantage of the loopholes in the monetary policy system to charge usurious cash-out rates to desperate members of the public that are failing to get cash through normal banking channels.
RBZ deputy governor Khuphukile Mlambo yesterday told the Tendai Biti-led Public Accounts Committee that there were currently no regulations to control EcoCash agents.
Gutu East MP Berita Chikwama (Zanu-PF) asked Mlambo to explain why new bond notes were found in abundance on the parallel market and none in the banking sector.
"We are not the parallel market and we only interact with the public through commercial banks," Mlambo replied.
"We do not sell money to the public, we sell it to commercial banks. We supervise them and right now, we do not have evidence that commercial banks are operating in the parallel market. If there is evidence, then tell us so that we act," Mlambo responded.
MPs hit back again, saying the RBZ was not controlling the situation because bags of money were being found on the streets.
"I will be lying if I say that there is a parallel market. The parallel market is a reflection of shortages in the system. The only way to deal with it is to have sufficient money and foreign currency. The only way to control a situation where there is a black market already is that the central bank should be in control of all foreign currency in the system. As things stand now, we do not have control of foreign currency and it is outside our purview," Mlambo said.
"I may not convince you, but the RBZ is not playing in the parallel market. We supervise commercial banks, but if there (are) suspicious activities, we want you to report to us."
But Dzivarasekwa MP Edwin Mushoriwa (MDC Alliance) said: "People now rely on EcoCash agents to get cash rather than commercial banks, which means that for a civil servant who cashes out bond notes amounting to $100, they get $40 and EcoCash agents get $60, and this means that as RBZ, you are not in control".
Mlambo responded: "I am aware of the EcoCash issue and it needs to be addressed. The problem is that for a long time, the central bank has (had) no legal instruments to deal with those kinds of activities (EcoCash agents). Now that we have a monetary policy statement, it means we will have enough legal instruments to deal with all these problems because all the time, we were using moral suasion."
Kambuzuma MP Willias Madzimure (MDC Alliance) then asked Mlambo to explain how the RBZ allowed EcoCash to function without any legal instruments in place to control agents.
Buhera Central MP Mathew Nyashanu (Zanu-PF) added: "This free market policy that we have in the country, is it working because retailers, merchants and citizens do not trust government policies? Can we have price stability without confidence in policies?"
Mlambo's response was that when the interbank market began operating, it was within a liberalised environment and guidelines were put for it to fluctuate.
"We put those guidelines, but due to the Zimbabwe risk, the rate could swing quickly, but there was a lot of criticism from the market that we were controlling and economists called it a dirty float," he said.
"After the criticism, we changed our policy to willing-buyer and willing-seller because we said if we do not control the market, more foreign currency will come in. We need to keep controls because of the political economy in which we operate."
Ecocash has also previously sent a stern warning to its agents charging extra fees to customers who wanted to cash out funds from their wallets, indicating that any agent caught doing so would be penalised.