Zim’s ‘Project Sunrise’ at full throttle

Allegations were that these people were accepting the old notes in the hope that they would use their influence to exchange them for the new legal tender at the central bank.

Old bearer cheques ceased to be legal tender on 21 August 2006, though the RBZ granted an extension for special cases.

Zimbabwe’s widest circulating daily, The Herald on Monday reported that desperate people were being forced to double the cost of goods in shops run by some influential businesspeople if they were using the old bearer cheques.

The paper said: “In some cases, a shop which earns an average of $2 million old value per day suddenly claimed to have sold goods worth billions of dollars in six days.

“Fears were that some of the money had actually been exported to rural areas after the announcement by RBZ Governor Dr Gideon Gono that the currency changeover period had been extended to last Saturday.”

It was alleged that such cases were discovered in the vast Masvingo Province where an unnamed legislator collected the old notes while two further incidences were reported in the Mutoko district of Mashonaland East.

The RBZ has remained resolute on its conditions of acceptance of old bearer cheques for exchange and the entire exercise has drawn mixed views from ordinary people and commentators across the country.

Dubbed “Project Sunrise”, the programme has been received with mixed feelings and the RBZ governor’s life and that of his family has been threatened a number of times since he made the currency swap announcement at the end of July.

Earlier in the week, Police Commissioner Augustine Chihuri reportedly told a Parliamentary Portfolio Committee on Home Affairs that a gang of armed robbers seized a luxury car belonging to a senior RBZ official, with a child inside the vehicle.

Though police managed to promptly apprehend the hijackers and recover the vehicle, the incident, observers said, was a possible indicator of the disgruntlement in some quarters with the central bank governor’s reforms aimed at boosting economic performance.

Prior to that incident, it was reported that Gono had been tailed by a “suspicious armed gang” while a fire which gutted his farm has been linked to the currency reforms.

This prompted Gono to issue a public statement saying he would not be intimidated and would continue with his programme as planned.

Observers have said those opposed to the reforms are mainly people who have been benefiting from Zimbabwe’s thriving foreign currency black market in one way or the other.

One critic of Gono’s policies, Josiah Taundi, was quoted in a local weekly saying: “Reserve Bank of Zimbabwe (RBZ) Governor, Gideon Gono’s monetary policies while packaged as a fight against bad business practices are only hurting the poor most. The policies are not tackling the real issues for the benefit of every Zimbabwean.”

A noticeable glitch has been the failure to account for 22 percent of the old currency that was in circulation.

Gono himself said: “Out of about $45 trillion (old value) currency that was in circulation at the time of launching Project Sunrise, a total of $35 trillion (old value) was accounted for through re-banking/withdrawal into the Reserve Bank coffers, leaving a balance of $10 trillion (old value) which has been trapped into the wilderness of underground markets either inside the country or doing overtime outside the borders.”

There have also been questions about the level of cooperation between the central bank and the Finance Ministry after one privately-owned newspaper claimed Herbert Murerwa, who heads the latter, was not aware of Gono’s currency reforms.

In Parliament last week, opposition legislator Edwin Mushoriwa queried Gono on the issue indicating that such a state of affairs impacted negatively on economic turnaround initiatives.

However, both Gono and Murerwa have brushed off these suggestions saying the two were working well together and kept each other fully briefed on developments.

“We work very closely that is as far as I can say. This country should stop being petty and realise that out there, there is need for development,” Gono was quoted saying in The Herald, pointing out that this was not time to quarrel on who was doing what while “Rome was burning”.

Gono added that there was total agreement in the country that extraordinary challenges required extraordinary measures and in dealing with monetary issues there were some things that would be best implemented without too much publicity.

The president of the Council of Chiefs, Chief Fortune Charumbira gave his support to the governor’s initiatives saying that Gono needed “the nation’s prayers as not everyone was happy about the work being done by the RBZ”.

Retailers have also been accused of trying to take advantage of the reforms by unnecessarily increasing prices.

Gono warned retailers: “We must keep prices down. Any increases are not justified at all. It will be irresponsible for business and commerce to profiteer on the back of the exercise.”

September 2006
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