The Zimbabwean government has issued a press statement which detailed the immediate suspension of mobile money transactions as of Friday 26 June 2020.
According to the statement, the measures put in place will remain valid until mobile money platforms have been reformed to their original purpose and all the current phantom rates of exchange have converged into one genuine rate that is determined by market forces under the Foreign Currency Auction System which was launched by the Reserve Bank of Zimbabwe on Tuesday 23 June 2020.
The suspension of mobile money transactions is due to the continuous decline in the value of the country’s local currency which was introduced as Bond note and is equivalent to the United States Dollar and subsequently changed to become the official Zimbabwean currency known as the $ZWL.
Since its introduction, the Bond note has faced a negative reaction from the public which led to the formation of what are known as parallel money exchange markets in the black market which had different prices.
The subsequent loss in value of the Zimbabwean Dollar has been largely blamed on the country’s largest mobile payments platform EcoCash which is owned by the country’s largest Telecoms company Econet Wireless.
In May 2020, EcoCash and Cassava CEO were charged under Under Money Laundering Law where they were accused of failing to comply with obligations imposed on financial institutions and their officers, employees, directors, and agents.
“On 4 May 2020. the FIU issued and served a directive on Ecocash titled “Suspension and Re-Registration of all Ecocash Agent Accounts with Transaction Limits of above ZWS100.000”.
“This was after the FIU had noted the ongoing abuse of Ecocash agent lines for foreign currency parallel market activities, which Ecocash had failed to curb. despite persistent engagement and requests by the FIU. The FIU had noted that transactions of substantial value were being undertaken as between agent-to-agent, with no visible lawful purpose nor underlying business rationale.” the statement reads.
Here’s the full statement:
Government has, with immediate effect, undertaken a series of prudent and coordinated interventions to deal with malpractices, criminality and economic sabotage perpetrated by the “wolves in sheep skins amongst our population” that His Excellency the President alluded to during his official address on the occasion of the Hero’s burial of Cde Stanley Nleya (Gagisa) at the National Shrine.
These measures include the suspension of all monetary transactions on phone-based mobile money platforms in order to facilitate intrusive investigations, leading to the arrest and prosecution of offenders.
Concurrently, the measures will also include the suspension of all trading on the Zimbabwe Stock Exchange.
These measures are to subsist until such time that the mobile money platforms have been reformed to their original purpose and all the current phantom rates of exchange have converged into one genuine rate that is determined by market forces under the Foreign Currency Auction System which was launched by the Reserve Bank of Zimbabwe on 23rd June 2020.
Operational modalities and details of the envisaged measures are going to be announced by the relevant monetary, regulatory and law enforcement authorities in the next few days.
Government will concurrently ensure that prudent measures are also put in place to mitigate and prevent any collateral damage that these interventions may cause to the innocent transacting public who were using these platforms.
Government is in possession of impeccable intelligence which constitutes a prima facie case whereby the phone-based mobile money systems of Zimbabwe are conspiring, with the help of the Zimbabwe Stock Exchange, either deliberately or inadvertently, in illicit activities that are sabotaging the economy.
These activities include: –
a) Illegal externalization of foreign currency through transfer mispricing;
b) Acting as banks outside the purpose for which they were originally licensed, as non-banking financial institutions. This includes, in the particular case of Ecocash, holding well in excess of ZWL$8 billion distributed across just over 501 000 agent/merchant lines as lat 10 June 2020, which is not under the scrutiny of the Financial Intelligence Unit;
c) Fraudulently creating and issuing non-attributable and non-auditable agent cellphone lines/accounts;
d) Hiding irreconcilable accounts in suspense accounts which hold huge credit balances for unjustifiably long periods;
e) Ecocash, in particular, is acting as the centre pivot of the galloping black market foreign exchange rate and therefore, fuelling the incessant price hikes of goods and services that are bedevilling the economy and causing untold hardship to the people of Zimbabwe.
In this regard, it has been conspiring with big merchants to act as their conduit through which they transfer hundreds of millions of dollars per day to runners on the street who then buy US Dollars on their behalf;
f) Rampant, often arrogant, non-compliance with directives issued by the Reserve Bank of Zimbabwe and the Financial Intelligence Unit;
g) Facilitating illicit trade in notes and coins, at contrived rates of between 30% and 50%, thus causing artificial shortages of the same within the banking system;
h) Criminally allowing agent lines that were banned by the RBZ to continue trading illegally;
i) Using bulk airtime sales at discounted prices which are cross rated to phantom USD exchange rates, which further distort the Zimbabwe market and deliberately mop up US Dollars from the black market, thus forcing up the rate of exchange in a manner that has hitherto been difficult to explain for
the monetary authorities;
j) Engaging in rampant unchecked tax evasion;
k) Failure to report suspicious transactions or to take action against them;
l) Creation of illegal transient and permanent money through airtime loans, unaccounted wallet-to-bank and bank-to-wallet transactions and other malpractices;
m) Maintaining unauditable mobile phone lines or accounts which are being used by criminal syndicates, in connivance with insiders, to steal money from subscribers through such fraudulent practices as teeming and lading;
n) Acting as conduits for the circulation of counterfeit USD notes; and
o) Facilitating criminal activities through the non-enforcement of KYC requirements; and
Ecocash, OneMoney, Telecash and MyCash Mobile Money platforms are all complicit in these illicit activities in varying degrees. Ecocash, however, which controls nearly 94% of all mobile money transactions, is the centre pivot of this problem and its resultant impact on Zimbabwe’s economy.
The impact is exacerbated by the existence of fake counters on the Zimbabwe Stock Exchange, which is epitomized by the so-called Old Mutual Implied Exchange Rate (OMIR). This, in turn, results in four or more US: ZWL parallel market exchange rates operating in the market.
At any time, therefore, there is the official rate, an Ecocash rate, a OneMoney rate and the OMIR among others. As the RBZ Governor aptly observed recently, there are multiple contrived phantom exchange rates in use in the Zimbabwe Economy, which conspire to defeat fiscal policy.
Statement issued by
Secretary for Information, Publicity and Broadcasting Services
We have requested for a statement from EcoCash asking what happens to EcoCash users with existing balances and if the company has any plans to counter the government’s directive.