Fiscal and monetary authorities sharply differ over proposals to make the Rand the currency of choice ostensibly because of Zimbabwe’s strong trade links with South Africa.
Reserve Bank governor John Mangudya has ruled out Rand adoption, telling a local weekly it will also be “externalised” just like the US dollar, which has vanished from the open market.
“What guarantee do we have that if we adopt it as our major currency it won’t suffer the same fate of externalisation and hoarding? Worse still, it only takes a few hours to reach South Africa,” he said.Zimbabwe’s currency basket has over the years become dominated by the greenback due to its global appeal and demand. As a result, externalisation has been rife, with independent estimates pointing out the country needs close to $1 billion in cash to plug its dollar deficit and return to liquid normalcy.
Speaking last week on the liquidity crisis which he claimed “is temporary,” Finance minister Patrick Chinamasa said: “We have to find ways to make Rand more available. We would like a situation where we borrow in Rands from South Africa, pay back in the same currency. We will continue to engage them.”
But Mangudya has said the Rand has been part of the multi-currency basket since 2009.
The nation abandoned its own currency in April 2009 as runaway inflation rendered it worthless, opting instead for a basket of currencies that includes US dollars, South Africa’s Rand, the Pound and Botswana’s pula.
“We continued to use it (the Rand) until such a time when some unscrupulous dealers started rejecting it,” Mangudya said.Veteran economist John Robertson said Zimbabwe would need South Africa’s permission to adopt the rand and said it “would never give that permission if Zimbabwe’s behaviour seemed likely to undermine the stability of the rand.”
“For that reason, if South Africa agreed to let Zimbabwe adopt the rand, the terms of that agreement would be highly conditional,” he told the Daily News on Sunday.
“Zimbabwe would have to meet all the requirements of the Common Monetary Area, made up of South Africa, Lesotho, Namibia and Swaziland. “When Namibia became independent and chose to remain a member, this was renamed the Multilateral Monetary Agreement and all four members, together with Botswana, belong to the Southern African Customs Union.
“This makes movements of capital and goods very mobile across the region, but disciplines have to be imposed by the South African Reserve Bank on the central banks of the member countries to keep the arrangements under control. South Africa would have to impose the same disciplines on Zimbabwe.But University of Zimbabwe economics professor Ashok Chakravarti said there were are no economic issues in adopting the rand tomorrow.
“Current thinking in Zimbabwe suggests that the country would be highly unlikely to accept strong South African influence over Zimbabwe’s monetary policy.”
“All it needs is a simple law, a statutory instrument from government with an exchange rate re-denomination of all US dollar balances, salaries and prices,” said Chakravati, who is also Mugabe’s economic advisor.
“The rand is also a non-convertible currency that will remain in the region and, therefore, cash will be maintained.”No permission had to be requested from the United States to make the US dollar Zimbabwe’s functional currency.
“This is because the US dollar is an international reserve currency,” Robertson explained.
“But it was a good choice as all Zimbabwe’s exports are priced in US dollars,” he said.Despite authorities injecting more bond notes into the market and increasing their weekly importation of US dollars by 50 percent, the government continues to battle to stem the country’s severe cash shortages which have seen desperate Zimbabweans besieging overstretched banks as they despairingly try to withdraw their money.
At the same time, analysts have warned that the accelerating disappearance of the fiat currency — bond notes, which were meant to mitigate the country’s acute cash crunch — was worsening the panic and spurring increasing calls for rand adoption.
Tinashe Kaduwo, an economist at financial research firm Equity Axis, said adopting the rand may entail formally joining South Africa’s monetary union.
“It may imply opening up our borders, removing all trade barriers and allowing free movement of capital, labour and goods between the two countries.Chantelle Matthee, an analyst at NKC African Economics said the real issue relates to how Zimbabwe is going to gain access to sufficient amounts of the currency for it to improve domestic liquidity, be it through a pegged arrangement or simply adopting a foreign currency as the sole exchange medium in the country.
“One major disadvantage of a monetary and trade union between a weaker and stronger economy is that it favours more the stronger economy,” he said, warning of a decrease in real purchasing power and industrial competitiveness; increasing unemployment and social disintegration given structural deficiencies in Zimbabwe’s productive sectors.
“Adopting the Rand should make trade between Zimbabwe and South Africa easier, but domestic production would still need to be ramped up for Zimbabwe to generate more Rands through exports, and the mere adoption of the rand would not necessarily incentivise increased domestic output, especially if the currency comes under pressure and exporters prefer to be paid in US dollars,” she told the Daily News on Sunday.
“Adopting the rand would also mean Zimbabwe gives up the independence of monetary policy and could also expose the country to shocks in South Africa, but aligning policy to that of its larger neighbour would not necessarily be a bad thing as it would be accompanied by increased stability and transparency.”Robertson said to have money; the country must be very productive and competitive.
“Or we could borrow it, but every lender wants to be repaid, so they will lend to us only if we are productive and competitive enough to earn the money needed to repay them,” he said.
“Some lenders used to think we could be trusted to repay them and we have let them all down, so they won’t lend to us before that changes.”Zimbabwe owes more than $1 billion in World Bank arrears and another $600 million-plus to the African Development Bank.
Robertson said Zimbabwe has worn out the generosity of its friends.
“The ones that are still supporting us with aid are doing so because they are sorry for the completely innocent victims. But aid cannot fix the underlying problem.He said government disabled the whole economy, sweeping out of existence the collateral value of agricultural land. Not less than 500 000 people who used to have a job have now lost their jobs because the economy is only half the size it used to be.
“So, still on the first point, to have money, we have to make it. When we’ve made it, we can decide – we can choose — in which currency it should be held, stored or banked.
“And on the international currency markets, we could convert whatever we have into whatever we would prefer. But we have to earn it first.
“One of our failings is that we are not earning enough, so the amount we are earning as a country is not enough to pay for the things the country wants to import. So, the country has got to get back to work.”
But another failing is that the business climate in Zimbabwe is so hostile that people who have money in the country are eager to bank it somewhere else.
“So a bad situation is made worse by the lack of confidence that comes from harsh conditions that are imposed by things like business licences and permits, confiscations of mining claims, indigenisation demands, high taxes, Zimra’s ability to raid company bank accounts, police road blocks, power cuts, the Reserve Bank’s Priorities List, high interest rates, high wages, the problems involved in drawing cash and difficult labour laws, just to mention a few,” he said.Chakravati has said Zimbabwe gave itself extra problems by choosing a strong currency, the US dollar, when it could have done itself a favour by choosing a weaker currency, the rand.
“The dollar is an international currency in great demand. It is therefore not possible for a developing country to maintain a dollarised economy while being surrounded by a non-dollarised region and world.But Robertson said this claim is not untrue for those with a very short-term view, but it is very dangerous thinking.
“There will always be a continuous leakage or ‘externalisation’ of the dollar out of the economy,” he said.
“The challenge Zimbabwe has to face is that it has to become competitive to make real progress and our producers have to continue improving to recapture the markets they want to serve. Any thought that we, as a country, can hope to succeed without having to become good at what we are doing is bound to be a very damaging thought.
“If we can improve and if we do win markets in competition with the world’s best producers, it will not be long before we can regenerate our own currency again and make it a currency that is worthy of respect.
“We cannot do that now, but we never will do it if we think we need only adopt a weak currency to become successful again. What we want we have to work for, so all the policies have to concentrate on getting Zimbabwe back to work and on getting the investors to commit to Zimbabwe’s longer-term future,” he said.