The US$2,23 billion debt accumulated by the Reserve Bank of Zimbabwe (RBZ) in the 12 months since July 2019 could be grossly understated, as fresh details emerged this week indicating the central bank could be violating borrowing rights to sustain the foreign currency auction system.
It also emerged during the week that the debt, unveiled last week, is a result of subsidies that the government has been dishing out especially to the energy sector.
The RBZ torched a storm last week when it reported in its July economic review that net foreign liabilities had shot to ZW$366,35 (US$4,52) billion in July this year, from ZW$23,28 (US$0,29) billion in July 2019.
In June RBZ relaunched the auction system in a bid to stem the rapid depreciation of the local unit against the greenback in a volatile macro-economic environment characterised by limited foreign currency inflows and runaway inflation which stood at more than 650% for the month of August.
Analysts previously warned that governments’ re-introduction of the forex auction system could have disastrous consequences because the country did not have adequate sources of foreign currency with receipts expected to drop by US$3 billion this year, worsening the country’s forex woes.
Zimbabwe is suffering severe foreign currency scarcity and is unlikely to have funds to liquidate at the auction.
There are fears that the auction will not survive the next two months when the country normally experiences a forex dry spell.
A member of the Public Accounts Committee (PAC), Edwin Mushoriwa said that it was no secret the country had been going through a rough patch in terms of forex and there had been no buy-in from forex earners on the auction system.
This had left the RBZ with no option but to look for funds to sustain the system as it desperately sought to give the impression of a “stable” economy.
“We only learnt recently that the RBZ in the past year had accumulated a debt of about US$2,3 billion and that money unfortunately was not recorded by the Ministry of Finance. They did not come to parliament to tell us. We only know now because the RBZ has produced a report.”
He said the auction rates stated weekly by the central bank were not authentic since the money was not coming from foreign currency accounts (FCA) holders.
“Most of the money is coming from RBZ which is actually borrowing the money to sustain the forex market but the problem is that such debt will need to be repaid,” Mushoriwa said.
“The initial idea was to persuade other people to come on the auction but the problem is that the people who are coming on the market are people like me who are looking for forex and have a lot of RTGS dollars. Those that have forex are unwilling to participate, so the RBZ supplies that forex which is actually a debt that they are creating,” he said.
Mushoriwa said the PAC was yet to establish the mechanism RBZ was using. He however pointed out that the committee knew RBZ was borrowing because part of the money that they retain is so small that it cannot be possible to dole out such a large chunk of money on a weekly basis.
The central bank has been allocating an average of US$11, 8 million per week since June with total allotments as at October 13 totaling
Mushoriwa said it was just a matter of time before the central bank’s accounts bore it all out. He said the committee knew the central bank would not be able to sustain the system beyond the forex dry spell with parallel market rates expected to shoot up.
“Normally we have a forex crisis in November when we no longer have inflows,” he said.
However RBZ governor John Mangudya on Tuesday dismissed the allegations as fake saying the auction is being funded from the 30% surrender portion of the exports, 20% surrender portion of the domestic foreign exchange sales and government forex taxes.
At a time the global economy has been brought to its knees by the Covid -19 pandemic and imports and exports alike have been affected,Mangudya said the country’s exports actually increased by 5% buoyed by minerals.
“It’s all fake news that the auction is being funded from borrowed funds. The figures being peddled relate to the preliminary statistics of blocked funds of legacy foreign exchange liabilities. The country’s exports, contrary to your assertion, have been going up compared to last year. They are up by 5%, driven by high gold and platinum prices.
“Manufactured exports have also been going up and so are diaspora remittances that went up by 30% during the first eight months of this year compared to last year,” he said
“Yes our exports have been doing well despite covid-19, especially the minerals. Gold has been a safe haven thus the prices have been going up and so has been those of palladium.”
There has also been an outcry on the substantial subsidies that the government has been giving out. Mushoriwa said part of the US$2,3 billion the central bank had accumulated was due to the electricity and fuel subsidies.
“Part of the US$2,23 billion came through the subsidies. They have been doing subsidies for fuel, electricity and a lot of things. Only recently they increased the tariffs for electricity. Most of the tariffs were sub-economic because the government was afraid of burdening the general populace with tariff increases and had to ask the RBZ to provide a subsidy.”
He said the RBZ makes payments on behalf of power utility Zesa to its South African counterpart Eskom.
“They know that Eskom is charging 10 cents (per what?) and the customer is charged 2 cents (per what?). Who pays for the difference? It’s the RBZ. It is debt accumulation and that is the problem we now have with Zesa and fuel companies .That how RBZ has been doing things.” he said.
Mangudya did not respond to the question on subsidies.
Besides Zimbabwe being heavily indebted there has been concern on the secrecy that surrounds debt accumulation as part of the central bank and government ministries’ debts are not accounted for in the government’s book.
The national debt now is estimated at over US$25 billion.