Nqobile Tshili/ Leonard Ncube, Chronicle Reporters
ZIMBABWEANS yesterday appealed for the reopening of banks at least once a week during the lockdown period for them to access their money in foreign currency accounts and other services.
All banks and micro-finance institutions are closed, with clients being told to transact using online and digital money platforms which foreign currency account holders have no access to. The institutions have done this to reduce the spread of Covid-19.
Those intending to receive money from international money transfer agencies such as MoneyGram, World Remit and Western Union have also been seriously affected.
EcoCash has also closed shops, encouraging clients to transact electronically but there have been glitches that have seen some people having their money deducted but is not credited when payment is due.
Highlighting a challenge they were facing, tour operator Ms Yvonne Jandles said nostro account holders cannot use online banking for transactions but have to physically go to a banking hall.
“Those who were not able to withdraw cash before the lockdown cannot access money now as banks are closed hence, they can’t buy anything now. Some banks were giving a maximum of US$200 per transaction which means that many couldn’t get enough to last them 21 days and we wish authorities could allow banks to occasionally open once or twice a week although we understand this may affect social distancing,” she said.
Consumer Rights Association (CRA) spokesperson Mr Effie Ncube said the financial sector should open as online services are not efficient. He said increased traffic to virtual platforms has overwhelmed banking facilities causing transaction glitches.
Mr Ncube said his organisation had formally engaged Government over the issue.
“It’s a sad situation which we have raised with relevant authorities that we can’t have banks closed for 21 days because the majority of Zimbabweans are not on online banking. We have the rural population and pensioners who access their money physically from the bank and adding those earning in foreign currency, you can see what the situation is like,” Mr Ncube said.
“As CRA we are calling upon Government to ensure banks are physically open the same way supermarkets are open. If people can observe social distancing while queuing in supermarkets to buy essentials, why can’t they do so in banks where they should get the money to buy from the same shops.”
Contacted for comment, Bankers Association of Zimbabwe president Mr Webster Rusere was adamant that banks were effectively providing service. He said banks were encouraging electronic transactions as a measure to mitigate against the spread of Covid-19.
“What I’m basically saying in summary we with the Central Bank, have come up with an agreement that banks will continue to provide services. Naturally if you see some of these branches closed, banks have taken necessary steps to improve on the mobile delivery channels on the virtual platforms. If you haven’t registered register now, go and register,” said Mr Rusere.
Economic analyst Dr Davison Gomo, feels reversing some of the pronounced policies might negate the gains the country has made so far in fighting coronavirus.
He urged citizens to be patient as the lockdown is short-lived.
“The national decision and national policy will fail if we localise some of these issues. While this is a worrisome situation, a national decision was taken because of the effects of Covid-19 and the need to control its spread. Government is not oblivious to these issues and you have heard leaders saying something will be done to cushion people and I am sure right decisions will be made at the right time.
“This situation is not going to be there forever. Government is fully aware of the difficulties but there is no easy way out and we can’t have solutions for each sector except for those exempted. We have many people raising similar concerns but let’s be optimistic that Government will address these and we go back to normal life,” he said.
While supermarkets are stocked with various basics, consumer buying power is very low in Victoria Falls as only a few people visit the shops, Chronicle established.