US$70m released to clear forex auction backlog Minister Mthuli Ncube

Prosper Ndlovu, Business Editor
GOVERNMENT has released US$70 million to speed up disbursement of funding and clear the backlog to businesses that participate at the Reserve Bank of Zimbabwe (RBZ)’s foreign currency auction system.

Over 4 000 companies have so far benefitted from the weekly Foreign Exchange Auction Trading System where a total of  US$1,968 billion has been allotted since  the introduction of the platform in June last year.

The official auction platform has been hailed by business leaders for improving industry access to forex, thereby facilitating price discovery in the economy.

However, participating entities have raised concerns over delays in securing the  forex requirements after approval of the allotments.

Some economists blame the delays in disbursements for creating arbitrage opportunities through stoking speculative parallel market pressures and price distortions.

The delays have resulted in the RBZ accumulating a backlog of close to US$200 million, which it has pledged to clear by the end of this month.

Finance and Economic Development Minister, Professor Mthuli Ncube, acknowledged the challenge in an interview on the sidelines of the ZITF, which ended in Bulawayo last Friday.

“There has also been a backlog in terms of payments in the auction system, which the Central Bank has mentioned.

“We stand ready as the Government to support the closure of that gap and last week we were able to release US$70 million towards closing that gap and it will be  closed as promised,” he told Business  Chronicle.

The minister said the Government was also taking necessary steps to address the  widening gap between the official exchange  rate of US$1:ZW$86 compared to between about US$1:ZW$140 and above on the black market.

“First of all, we are taking a step to make sure that the gap between the parallel market and auction rate is contained,” he stated.

“You have seen recent changes introduced by the Central Bank where they are allowing individuals to change US$50 a week from Bureaux de-Changes.

“Those who want to exchange smaller amounts should also have access to the formal market as opposed to having to go around the corner to some dark alley somewhere. So, formalising the market is critical for generating that stability.”

According to the RBZ, the forex auction system has so far covered and benefited almost every facet of the economy from, inter alia, individuals’ needs for educational fees, SMEs’ requirements for capital and raw materials and primary producers’ capital requirements.

“The auction has had a bigger footprint in the economy as more than 4 000 entities have accessed foreign currency through allotment of US$1,734 billion at the main auction and US$233,8 million at the SMEs auction,” said the Apex Bank in a recent update.

The weekly Foreign Exchange Auction Trading System was introduced to improve the productive sector’s accessibility to  foreign currency for the procurement of raw materials.

Companies participating at the platform have also been able to procure essential and strategic imports like pharmaceuticals, and chemicals, fuel and electricity.

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