AS businesses adjust their operations in line with the recently gazetted Statutory Instrument 127 of 2021, illegal foreign currency dealers have invaded supermarkets and wholesalers where they are offering higher rates to customers intending to use forex to pay for goods and services.
Some of the dealers have set camp at bus terminuses where they are transacting with commuters who require bond notes to pay bus fares.
Since SI 127 of 2021 came into effect about a fortnight ago, most retailers and companies have heeded the new legal instrument which, among other things, empowers the Reserve Bank of Zimbabwe (RBZ) to penalise traders that price their goods or services above the official exchange rate.
However, as most shops adjusted their pricing structures in line with the regulations, illegal forex dealers quickly moved in to cash in on the situation.
A survey conducted by The Manica Post over the past fortnight revealed that illegal forex dealers have been using their debit cards, mobile banking, internet banking and Zipit facilities to pay for goods and services on behalf of customers at higher rates.
Officially, US$1 is worth around $84, but black market dealers are offering anything between $120 and $130 for the same amount.
Cash rates are usually pegged at around $100 to $115 for US$1.
According to investigations carried out by this publication, cashiers at some of the shops are involved in the illegal enterprise as they are given debit cards loaded with huge balances to mop up forex at the till points in return for a cut.
In Mutare’s central business district, the illegal foreign currency dealers loiter inside PicknPay, OK, N Richards and Spar as they scout for customers intending to use USD for payments.
Some of the dealers dupe supermarket security guards by pushing trolleys and loading groceries as they pretend to be genuine shoppers.
In Chipinge and Rusape, the same situation is prevailing in the big supermarkets and wholesalers.
But apart from the rush into supermarkets, the forex dealers have set camp outside international money transfer agencies like Mukuru, World Remit and Western Union; where they intercept people who would have collected their money from the banking halls.
The Mukuru branch situated adjacent to The Manica Post Cul-de-sac and the Western Union branch along Herbert Chitepo Street (ironically very close to Mutare Central Police Station) are hot spots for such activities.
Investigations have also revealed that smaller shops, especially those situated in downtown Mutare, are not sticking to the official rates and are thus carrying out back door transactions using black market rates.
At this wholesale (name withheld), a customer who wanted to buy an electric stove which was pegged at $52 000 almost walked out when the cashier told him they were using the official rate of 1/84.
He was then escorted to a back door office where he paid for the stove using a rate of 1/125.
After making the payment, he was given an RTGS receipt.
Zimbabwe Retailers Association president, Mr Denford Mutashu, said law enforcement agencies must quickly move in to restore order in the informal sector.
“The forex dealers are mopping up all the foreign currency, thereby leaving traders with nothing.
“This is corruption of the highest order. We are appealing to the police to chip in quickly and arrest these illegal money changers.
“We run the risk of killing formal businesses,” said Mr Mutashu.
Manicaland provincial police spokesperson, Inspector Luxson Chananda, said more police officers have been deployed to bring the illegal forex dealers to book.
“We have seen an increase in the number of people doing illegal foreign currency transactions on the pavements and in the supermarkets.
“We have deployed our officers, both in uniform and plain clothes, to arrest these people and bring them to book.
“We urge members of the public to do their transactions in banks and registered bureau de changes.
“Some of the people they are dealing with are criminals who will rob them of their hard earned cash.
“What the public must understand is that it takes two or more people to do a transaction and all the parties involved in any illegal money transfer deal will be arrested and charged accordingly,” he said.
A Rusape businessman who requested anonymity said the accounts of the people who are fuelling the black market should be frozen.
“There is this guy who comes into my shop and pays for goods on behalf of my customers.
“He uses his debit card and it would be very simple for the responsible authorities to track the transactions done from such accounts as it is clearly a red flag when the same person purchases groceries 15 times per day from the same supermarket using the same debit card,” he said.