'Mobile money suspension will bury Zimbabwean economy'

By Staff reporter | 28 Jun 2020 at 17:38hrs
THERE is a debilitating mixture of chaos, confusion and panic among both consumers and businesses across the country, after the government made a surprise announcement late on Friday evening that it would suspend mobile money.

This comes as concerned economic experts warned in interviews with the Daily News On Sunday yesterday that the government's move was ill-advised - adding that it would likely "bury" the economy and also result in social arrest.

While all mobile platforms were still working yesterday, many retail shops around the country - including in Harare and Bulawayo - were no longer accepting mobile transfers as a form of payment, creating massive problems for consumers.

Former Finance minister Tendai Biti said shutting down mobile money was a clear sign that the government was incompetent and that it had no workable ideas to address the country's deepening economic rot.

"You cannot shut down mobile money when 80 percent of the population is dependent on this, and when there is no cash in the banks. This just shows you how (Finance minister) Mthuli Ncube and (President Emmerson) Mnangagwa are clueless.

"The issue of the parallel market rate that they say they are addressing is not because of the money changers in the streets.

"It's a result of a lack of production in the country. Until this is addressed, we will continue witnessing the collapse of the economy and these attempts by a clueless government to resuscitate it," Biti told the Daily News On Sunday.

"As I have always argued that you can rig an election, but you cannot rig the economy. Mnangagwa's government is a curse to the people of Zimbabwe," he added.

Veteran economist John Robertson chipped in saying the government's decision would be difficult to enforce given that mobile money formed the bulk of the money transacted in the country.

"Shutting down mobile money means that the government is going to lose out the two percent tax that it has been collecting from all the mobile money transfers.

"This will in turn affect the revenue that the government will be able to generate given that 90 percent of transactions were being done via mobile money, owing to cash shortages in the country.

"The government will be the biggest loser in all of this and might not be able to pay civil servants at the end of it all," Robertson told the Daily News On Sunday.

He added that suspending mobile money would also increase the demand for cash, which was not readily available in the country.

"Cash will definitely become more important if people are unable to transact using mobile money, and this is unfortunate because there are cash shortages in the country.

"This will reduce the purchasing power of consumers and it will affect business viability.

"This decision was also made at a time when many people are receiving their salaries, many of whom do not have bank accounts.

"How then are they going to use that money now that mobile money has been suspended?" Robertson further told the Daily News On Sunday.

"This could lead to social unrest and we could see demonstrations because people will be frustrated by not being able to use their money to buy supplies for their families," he added.

Another top economist, Tony Hawkins, said this move - like other recent government decisions - was not going to last given that the majority of people in Zimbabwe used mobile transfer.

"I doubt if this is going to last given that many people are using mobile money to transact on a daily basis.

"The government has not made provisions to deal with cash shortages. So, the only way to reduce cash demand is to promote the use of mobile money. This is not a well-thought decision which I doubt will last for long," Hawkins told the Daily News On Sunday.

He added that the decision reflected badly on the government which was trying to promote the ‘‘Zimbabwe is open for business'' mantra.

"Shutting down the entire stock exchange just doesn't make sense and it reflects badly on the government which is saying that Zimbabwe is open for business.

"No one is going to take them seriously because how can investors come into such an unpredictable environment? This is just another blow to the already ailing economy," Hawkins further told the Daily News On Sunday.

On his part, respected political science lecturer at the University of Zimbabwe, Eldred Masunungure, described the decision as a "desperate move" from a "desperate government" which was now "out of ideas" on how to manage the country's escalating economic crisis.

"This was not just a shock to the targeted mobile money operators, but to the ordinary men and women in Zimbabwe who have been using mobile money.

"The government indicated that it would soon announce how this will be implemented, but if it doesn't come up with measures to mitigate the suffering of many people who have been affected by this, the government should brace for difficult times in controlling frustrated masses.

"People will become unsettled if they are unable to meet their day to day needs because of the suspended mobile money. That frustration can explode into something else that the government will fail to control," Masunungure told the Daily News On Sunday.

He added that the suspension of mobile money was also indicative of panic on the government's part as a result of its failure to tame Zimbabwe's runaway inflation, prices and the exchange rate.

"The government recently launched an exchange rate system which was expected to stabilise the exchange rate.

"However, the reverse of this was true and what we are now seeing is panic from the government trying to deal with the soaring black market exchange rate.

"The fact that this announcement was made by the government and not the Reserve Bank of Zimbabwe (RBZ) also indicates the tug of war between fiscal and monetary authorities.

"The RBZ as the regulator should have made this announcement but we are not seeing anywhere that it was involved.

"That is why we have monetary challenges in this country. There is no cohesion between fiscal and monetary authorities," Masunungure further told the Daily News On Sunday.

Consumers who spoke with the newspaper also expressed shock over the government's sudden decision to suspend mobile money.

"I immediately moved my money from my mobile money account to my bank as soon as I got the news about the suspension, because I was afraid I would not be able to use it.

"We had gotten used to mobile money platforms, not only because they are convenient, but because they enabled us to get access to hard cash given that banks do not have enough cash," Takunda Guzha said.

"Now that mobile money has been suspended, we are now going to have to wake up early in the morning to stand in long queues to access cash.

"The government should ensure that there is access to cash in banks and not just suspend mobile money without dealing with the root problem of limited cash supply," he added.

Another consumer, Patience Matenda said while the government thought it was fixing the economy by suspending mobile money, it was in fact "fixing ordinary people" in the country who were dependent on mobile money platforms.

"I wanted to buy grocery items using mobile money today and I was just told that they (the shop involved) were no longer accepting it.

"I don't know what to do now because I have no bank account. My husband normally sends money to me and I use mobile money to buy all household necessities," she said.

Similo Mpofu also bemoaned the suspension of mobile money, saying it was going to be difficult to send money to relatives without bank accounts.

"Mobile money was convenient and user friendly. It enabled us to send money to our relatives, especially those in the rural areas who do not have bank accounts.

"How are we going to be able to send money with ease now that the government has suspended mobile money?" Mpofu told the Daily News On Sunday.

Meanwhile, EcoCash said yesterday that it was aware of the statement purporting to have been issued by the secretary for Information, Publicity and Broadcasting Services - Nick Mangwana - that purported to ban all mobile money transactions.

"However, EcoCash is regulated by the Reserve Bank of Zimbabwe and would naturally expect a directive of that nature and significance to be communicated by the Reserve Bank of Zimbabwe.

"We urge all EcoCash users who exceed 10 million Zimbabweans, the majority of whom do not have bank accounts, to remain calm and to continue to do your lawful transactions as usual.

"Should there be any changes, we shall give you adequate notice as required by law," the company said.

NetOne also advised that OneMoney services were still operating normally.



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