Zimbabwe: RBZ, Time Bank in Bitter Battle

A row is brewing between the Reserve Bank of Zimbabwe (RBZ) and Time Bank directors amid allegations the regulator is deliberately frustrating the return of the bank.

The Chris Tande-founded bank was put under curatorship in 2004 and had its licence cancelled in 2006 leading to serious court fights.

Time Bank prevailed after the Administrative Court restored its licence in August 2009. Information obtained from various sources said that Time Bank, RBZ and the bank's former curator Tinashe Rwodzi had entered an agreement whereby there would be a handover of assets to its former owners. The handover of assets would also include the computer system.

All of the bank's assets were returned except the computer system which is under the custody of RBZ. Time Bank was told by the RBZ that it had lost the passwords to the computer system and a meeting in November 2009 tasked Time Bank to finance the cutting of new passwords.

It was agreed then that once the computer system was opened up, there would be reconciliation of assets against those provided by the curator. An audit trail would be printed where the three parties would append their signatures.

A computer expert was hired, opened the system and put in a new password in the presence of Time directors, the RBZ and the curator. all the information, including the audit trail was then printed.

At the time of signing, the curator said he needed to consult but has never been forthcoming, Time Bank alleges. Time Bank and RBZ are also haggling over a US$15 million Memorandum of Deposit raised from the PTA Bank.

The loan was disbursed through RBZ. On repayment, RBZ charged the bank 70% interest instead of 7%. RBZ went on to debit Time Bank's account with 63% excess interest.

The matter was brought before then governor Leonard Tsumba who said the bank should regard 50% of their claim as an asset on their book or as money owed by RBZ until the matter is finalised.

Time Bank says RBZ is now disregarding the case in its verification of the bank's capital position. Time Bank further alleges RBZ is unwilling to give them a grace period while it resolves its land dispute with government.

One of Time Bank's assets, Watermount Estate along Enterprise Road was compulsorily acquired by government under the land reform programme and discussions are underway to resolve the matter.

Chances are high the bank will be compensated and in the meantime wants the land to be an asset on its books. RBZ governor, Gideon Gono said on Friday it would be prejudicial for the central bank to make a statement as Time Bank had appealed to Finance minister Tendai Biti in terms of the provisions of the Banking Act (Chapter 24:20). Biti is yet to make a determination.

"The Reserve Bank will, however, make an appropriate announcement on the status of Time Bank once the minister has made a determination on the matter," Gono said.

In e-mailed responses, Rwodzi said he was appointed as curator by RBZ under the terms of which he was required to report on all matters relating to that curatorship to the central bank.

"The terms of my appointment confer on me a duty of confidentiality which I must observe in respect of all matters relating to that appointment," he said adding that he had reported to RBZ on all aspects relating to the handover of Time Bank of Zimbabwe Limited to its owners.

"I am not at liberty to make any further comments," he said. Tande could not be reached for comment on Friday as he was said to be attending a series of meetings.

'Time Bank getting hostile treatment from RBZ'

Time Bank insists RBZ is unfairly treating them in light of the grace periods given to banks. It says while some banks were given close to three years to be capital compliant, the RBZ is overlooking the fact that it was held by outstanding issues in which the regulator is culpable.

"In all these, you can't be expected to meet RBZ requirements with these outstanding issues," an insider said. "Secondly, how can you roll out commercial banking when you don't have a computer system?"

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