Beyond EcoCash: Pricing distortions in Zimbabwe

HARARE – Crisis weary Zimbabweans are expecting the newly sworn in Cabinet to move with speed and address the current liquidity crisis that has seen many people spending hours in bank queues while the value of bond notes has been significantly eroded.

The country’s worsening cash shortages have also resulted in retailers and hardware shops coming up with a five-tier pricing system — a separate price for consumers using either United States dollars, local bond notes, EcoCash, bank transfers (real time gross settlement balances) or bank cards to purchase goods.

Economic analysts told the businessdaily that it was important for the central bank to come up with sustainable solutions to stem the cash shortages in the country instead of playing the blame game at a time when millions of Zimbabweans are failing to access their money. 

“The financial ecosystem is becoming dysfunctional. And as long as the fundamentals are not addressed we will continue to experience cash shortages. The RBZ must be brave enough and go for the jugular,” said an economic expert who preferred anonymity.

“Go to any hardware or some service providers — the question you get is — how are you paying? Cash, EcoCash, Swipe or RTGS? Why is the price not the same? So is it EcoCash?” the source queried.

“Admittedly, EcoCash has done a great job with the ubiquitous presence of agents. However, it is sinful, unfair, immoral, wrong and unjust to single them out! A call out to the powers that be. The challenge is not the EcoCash agent, nor the retailer either. Let’s accept it, the challenge is liquidity.

“Let’s not treat the symptoms, don’t target the weaker and vulnerable economic agent. Our esteemed colleagues at RBZ — it’s your call — of course with everyone’s support,” the economist said.

On its part, Econet has consistently warned the public against paying an extra fee on its mobile money platform. “Please be advised that EcoCash has no charges outside the ones on our tariff charts. Please do not accept to pay the extra fee as this is the only way to stop this practice,” the company said in a statement.

Another economist with a local bank said the economy cannot grow without adequate liquidity.

“RBZ governor John Mangudya should tell us how the challenge of cash is going to be addressed, and particularly what will happen with the bond notes. How are we going to end liquidity challenges?

“It’s more criminal to let people spend long hours in bank queues, sleeping on the tarmac, hopeful, optimistic only to get few grammes of coins than the premium charged by the poor EcoCash agent.

“Spare a thought for these entrepreneurs who have transformed Zimbabwe’s financial landscape by being at the forefront of financial inclusion and financial literacy,” she said.

Other analysts said it was also crucial for the government to deal with those fuelling the parallel market as well as those who are externalising money across the borders.

“The biggest or is busiest border post in Africa — Beitbridge — (between Zimbabwe and South Africa) has estimated 60 000 human traffic per day.

These people cross with either with rands or United States dollars. Where is the money coming from when your bank gives you nothing?

Just find any figure you want to use to estimate the amount each individual is carrying. The black market is live and active. Let’s open our eyes to a bigger and real challenge” said another economic commentator.