18 May 2017

Zimbabwe: Act On Bank Queues


AS with other African countries, the problem with Zimbabwe is the tendency to procrastinate or, worse still, sit on problems until they become too hot to handle.

The most illustrative example is how the country's economy has been allowed to slide down the slippery slope for many years without any resolute response from the authorities.

There is inertia on the part of those in positions of authority to act. Everyone seems contend with watching this tragicomic economic implosion from the sidelines, forgetting that it is their duty to act on it.

The results of this hesitancy or lack of interest in dealing with issues while they can still be managed is the crisis that Zimbabwe finds itself in.

Infrastructure is now in a state of decay. Take for instance our roads; they are now deathtraps, instead of acting as arteries that facilitate movement of goods and services, as well as taking passengers from one point to the other.

The same goes for the rail network. The railway line is being vandalised and signals are no longer functional.

In the social cluster, the spectre of hunger and poverty is ripping through communities. Hospitals, once the pride of Africa, have been reduced to shelters where patients wait for the inevitable because they cannot access the required drugs.

Standards in thousands of public schools have also plummeted to worrying levels.

It is not as if there are no resources to solve these problems. The resources are available, but are being misdirected. That is why we shudder to imagine where the crisis in the banking sector is taking this country.

While authorities, including the Reserve Bank of Zimbabwe (RBZ), have been at pains to calm the markets with assuring statements, the situation on the ground is far from pleasing.

This is not a crisis that started a year or two ago. It has manifested over many years, reaching catastrophic levels in 2007/08, when the financial system was crippled by the closure of dozens of indigenous banks.

Following a brief hiatus between 2009 and 2011, turmoil struck again from 2012, sinking more banks, and causing so much instability across markets.

It is being estimated that a staggering US$500 million could be lost this year alone as workers are spending long productive hours queuing for cash at the banks.

According to Industrial Psychology Consultants, employees are spending up to two-and-half hours in queues each time they dash out to the bank. This means companies, which are struggling to survive, are being forced to pay unproductive workers, placing undue pressure on cash flows.

This problem has not been created by companies or workers. The elephant in the room is government, which has been procrastinating on resolving these challenges.

While there has been a semblance of resilience in the financial services, we could be reaching a point where the centre might not be able to hold.

We urge the RBZ and government to immediately put their heads together to thrash out a long-lasting solution to the cash crisis before we run into far more serious problems.


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