HARARE Feb 15 Zimbabwean banks only have enough
cash in offshore accounts to finance about two weeks' worth of
the country's imports, according to a statement from the central
bank on Wednesday.
Local banks holding $120 million in cash and around double
that in offshore accounts, the central bank said, as the country
struggles with a persistent shortage of cash.
Zimbabwe introduced a "bond note" currency last year that is
backed by a $200 million loan from Africa Export and Import
Bank. The notes are holding their value, but businesses say they
still face serious delays in paying for imports because banks
have no dollars to make the payments.
Zimbabwe needs an average $430 million a month to pay for
imports, according to central bank figures for 2016. With only
$250 million in offshore accounts, local banks can only finance
imports for about two weeks.
The Reserve Bank of Zimbabwe (RBZ) said it would from the
end of this month start a local VISA settlement platform, which
should help to preserve foreign exchange by saving its users the
charges associated with international settlements. Local
settlement for Mastercard is expected at the end of next month.
"This development is critical in saving the much-needed
foreign currency and bringing about enhanced efficiencies for
local transactions," the RBZ said.
The RBZ said it had issued $94 million in bond notes, which
had so far held their value against the U.S. dollar.
Zimbabwe expects tobacco and gold exports to rise,
increasing earnings and helping to reduce the shortages of cash
that have gripped the country since last year, the RBZ said.
The RBZ has directed banks to cap interest rates at 12
percent starting April, in a bid to offer cheaper credit to
businesses and expand production.
(Reporting by MacDonald Dzirutwe; editing by Larry King)