First, it was the about-turn on the conversion of US dollar figures for government contracts that had tongues wagging. The government of Zimbabwe via cabinet briefing would now convert all pre-RTGS dollar balances denominated in US dollars at the prevailing interbank rate. Then a picture surfaced with a notice supposedly from the ministry of agriculture that advised that all charges would now be paid in the US dollar equivalent via the interbank rate.
That sent people into a frenzy. We’ve long observed real value accounting (or pegging) in the Zimbabwean economy and I must admit the government is a bit late to the party. This move does imply an admission of the RTGS dollars inability to store value. The RTGS dollar has taken a battering on both the interbank and parallel market. While the authenticity of the notice is under challenge with no official confirmation, it did bring up some talking points.
If this is, in fact, an indication of where we are going it does represent good business by the government of Zimbabwe, something we don’t get to say very often. The practice is not only mainstream but the best way to ensure viability in an economy where the unit of account is losing value daily. In fact, the RTGS dollar has shed half its value in 4 months on the interbank market.
Zimbabweans have long grumbled over the Policy inconsistency that the government has shown and this would further this view. In February the midterm monetary policy did away with the US dollar as the unit of account. If this move is government policy that represents a departure from their own rules. Former Finance Minister Tendai Biti has come under criticism for his continuous calls to redollarise the economy but this may prove to be the case.
When we welcomed the RTGS dollar our analysis was that the RTGS dollar would likely be relegated to a transactional currency if the factors which had lead to bond inflation were not dealt with. We believe that this would represent the final frontier for that position to be confirmed.
One major sticking point is that citizens are not earning US dollar-linked salaries and therefore cannot keep step with this pricing. Where the RTGS dollar has lost half its value in 4 months, salaries have barely moved with those experiencing increments getting between 15 and 30%. So this will definitely be another blow to the already overburdened pockets of citizens.
On the bright side
Every cloud has a silver lining, even this one. While citizens and commentators will be well within their rights to complain about this development it may represent a move towards heeding the advice on the interbank market which recommended the government to purchase foreign currency on the interbank market as an ordinary participant. With gold miners asking for 90% retention of foreign currency proceeds perhaps a true freeing of the interbank market is on the horizon.