THE Bank of Tanzania (BoT) is considering the use of Short Message Service (SMS) to educate the public on legal tender security features, being part of strategies to prevent fabrication and distribution of counterfeit notes.
Commenting on the seriousness of the matter, Senior Clerical Officer from the BoT, Directorate of Banking, Ms Rehema Zongo admitted the existence of the problem, saying that bundles of forged notes surprisingly reached counters of credible financial institutions in the country, only to be detected later at the BoT banking orderliness.
"Community awareness is vital as the clandestine nature of operation among dealers calls for a multi-faceted combat approach, as majority of Tanzanians including those in remote areas own mobile phones and could easily be reached," Zongo observed.
She added; "We (BoT) are considering this line of attack because educative text messages for identification of forged notes will make a big difference.
Forged money lack security features." In case of forged notes from different banks reached BoT, she added, the corresponding discrepancy was debited from the respective banks' accounts and vice-versa.
Any additional amount was equally credited to the account. The BoT Principal Public Relations Officer, Mr Emmanuel Mwero, requested all financial institutions in the country to exercise strictness and take seriously the obligation to address the challenge of counterfeit notes that equally affects the economy.
During the 38th Dar es Salaam International Trade Fair that ended recently, BoT took time to educate thousands of visitors to the pavilion that forged notes were slippery, lacked the 10,000/- inscriptions and the asymmetrical image of Mwalimu Nyerere. It was explained that the deceiving stylishness of counterfeit money and the resemblance to genuine currency confused many.
Perhaps dealers capitalised on the weakness as many people could hardly differentiate the notes. He said that in recognition of the importance of community awareness, therefore, the BoT takes into account the need to negotiate with mobile phone service providers to have text messages delivered to subscribers reminding them of the need to verify the genuineness of money received.
Investigations by the 'Sunday News' reveals that apart from premeditated concealment that surrounds the process leading to the manufacture of forged notes, dealers would consult soothsayers (fortune-tellers) to receive magic charms to 'blindfold' both the recipients and the police.
Narrating the intricacies of forged money business, a repentant dealer says the soft targets had always been local charcoal makers, farmers in desperate need of money when selling their crops, livestock wholesalers, fuel suppliers at filling stations, among others.
"The payment is preferably made particularly late at night with dim light just to make it difficult for the recipient to detect the imitated currency. Usually 250,000/- genuine cash is offered in exchange for 1m/- fake money. The profit is realised in the process," he explains.
Adding; "'Underground' fake money manufacturers, commonly located in high-class residential areas, the settings not easily suspected by the police, would meet suppliers at a designated location away from the 'factory,'" explained the ex-dealer.
Clarifying on the extent to which production and circulation of counterfeit money has taken toll in the country; the apologetic dealer originating from Bukoba alleges that nearly in all major towns there are secret locations where some individuals equipped with sophisticated machines are engaged in the dirty business.
"Dealers usually operate in groups to speed up the circulation. The group leader would 'buy' forged notes from the manufacturer. The transaction is carried out at an agreed ratio. The notes are distributed to four or five associates to facilitate smooth flow to unsuspecting peddlers," he clarifies.
Inside However, dealers do not play down the possibility of falling in the hands of the police. In this regard the need to seek 'protection' from a witch-doctor arises.
The brokers would be taken to the graves for charms to become effective. He says, according to Buhaya culture where he comes from, there are different traditional guiding spirits which should be consulted for appeasement and request for successful missions in any intended engagement.
For example, the Mugasha spirit controls lake activities like fishing and storms. Rugaba spirit controls rains for good harvest and prosperity, Kashasila for revenge and provocation, Wamala for wisdom and educational success, Kagoro for the disabled and Kimuli to help commit a crime without being caught.
"I remember the first day I was taken to the grave site at night and forced to kneel down before a grave and a traditional mediator between the community and Kimuli guiding spirit," he recalls "I carried a horn of an antelope full of milk mixed with honey and poured on the grave as a traditional healer slaughtered a he-goat for the blood to sink into the ground to appease the spirits.
I murmured my wishes that the spirits should help me to become rich, protect me from the authorities and let 'customers' not suspect me," he revealed.
He says despite all the spiritual engagements the risky business was never smooth and uncertainties surrounded the entire operation. "I narrowly escaped death when I cheated charcoal makers in Vigwaza area near Chalinze in Bagamoyo District, when one of the villagers alerted others that I had given them fake notes. I was severely beaten and decided to quit the business all together," he recalled.