Zimbabwe: Paynet Switches Off Banks

Streets of Harare, Zimbabwe.

Paynet, a subsidiary of Mauritian financial services provider Payserv Africa, has suspended all local financial institutions from its transacting platform after they refused to pay in foreign currency for its services.

This has had the knock-on effect on RTGS payments.

Paynet is the platform used in interbank RTGS transfers. The platform is also used by corporates to facilitate its payments.

The standoff is the latest indication of a worsening economic crisis characterised by a debilitating liquidity crunch, foreign currency shortages, rising inflation, power outages and low productivity.

The development means that there will be limited movement of funds during the standoff, which will affect the general public's transactions.

The development could also affect the payment on time of salaries to civil servants. Government starts paying its workers mid-month.

In a statement this week, Paynet said they had cut off all banks from using its platform because of their failure to pay for its services.

"We regret to inform our valued clients that Payserv Africa have suspended Paynet services to all banks due to non-payment of service fees," Paynet said.

"If you would like to continue using Paynet, please contact your bank and request they address this with Payserv Africa to have service reinstated."

A senior banking official told businessdigest that they cannot pay for the services of Paynet for carrying out transactions in RTGS.

"Various discussions have been held over the issue to try and find middle ground," the official noted.

"It does not make sense for us to pay the service provider in foreign currency when we process transactions in RTGS. Paynet has cut off all banks from their platforms which is probably to pressurise us to accept its proposition for us to pay for its services in foreign currency. "

Another banking official said they are now looking at other modalities to avert a national crisis, which include looking for an alternative service provider who will charge in RTGS dollars.

"We feel that Paynet has tried to turn customers against banks by asking them to contact us over its decisions to cut us off which is a move in bad faith," he said.

The development is a culmination of the depreciation of the country's local currency which continues to rapidly erode against the United States dollar. Yesterday the US dollar was trading at 1:9 with the RTGS dollar on the parallel market.

The country's local currency has been in a free-fall since Reserve Bank governor John Mangudya announced in October last year the separation of RTGS and foreign currency accounts. The situation is further aggravated by the central bank's decision in February this year to adjust the exchange rate from 1:1 to 1:2,5.

This has resulted in most service providers and retail shops demanding payment in the US dollar or at the RTGS equivalent at a time the disposable income of most Zimbabweans has remained stagnant.

President Emmerson Mnangagwa announced last week that his government is working on introducing a new local currency and abandoning the use of the multi-currency regime which has been operating for the last decade.

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