Forex dealers get free rein
The Zimbabwe Republic Police says it is finding it difficult to bring cash vendors to book because there is need for an officer of the law to witness an illegal transaction before effecting an arrest.
Last year, Government, through the promulgation of Statutory Instrument 122A of 2017 — (Exchange Control (Amendment) Regulations 2017 (No 5), criminalised cash vending without permission from the exchange control authority and empowered police to arrest money peddlers and seize whatever currency involved. Government believes that illegal cash trading is fuelling arbitrary price hikes and rent-seeking behaviour.
Police national chief spokesperson Senior Assistant Commissioner Charity Charamba said the ZRP and the Harare City Council were conducting joint operations to bring sanity to the city. She, however, noted that cash vendors had remained elusive.
“We, as the ZRP, have deployed officers in the streets to curtail the mushika-shika, street vendors and illegal forex traders as our main priority. However, it has been difficult to arrest cash vendors as it requires an officer of law to witness the culprits exchanging money,” she said.
“This operation is a joint venture with the Harare City Council to bring sanity in the central business district (CBD), which has witnessed several arrests of cash vendors.” Snr Asst Comm Charamba said illegal forex dealers were slippery because some of them are always mobile, while others use their vehicles as convenient “offices” to conduct their business.
“Some of them are mobile and in most cases they get into vehicles and conduct their illegal deals. There is need to find a lasting solution such as deterrent sentences,” she said. The police spokeswoman also noted that it was not an offence to hold cash. But the sentences seem deterrent enough.
Under the new legislation, offenders face a mandatory 10-year jail term, while their cash is forfeited to the State and their bank accounts frozen. One of the foreign currency dealers in Harare, Zivanai Mushangwe, who operates at Roadport Bus Terminus, said cash vending was his only source of income.
“I do not have a stable job where I can obtain a salary at the end of month and forex trading is my only source of income as my family needs financial support since I am the breadwinner. We, as forex traders, our lives depend on exchanging money in the streets and that is the only way we can afford to pay rent and send our children to school,” he said.
Illegal cash traders have turned Eastgate Shopping Mall, Copacabana, Roadport, Market Square and First Street into “bureau de changes” for people that intend to buy hard currencies — principally the US dollar and the South African rand — or vice versa.
A snap survey by The Herald yesterday revealed that the illegal foreign exchange trading points in Harare such as Eastgate Shopping Mall, Copacabana, Roadport, Market Square, First Street, Fifth Street and along Kwame Nkrumah Avenue are still a hive of activity. The cash vendors were even soliciting for prospective clients openly.
By yesterday a US$100 bill was changing hands at 120 for bond notes. Though the cash vendors, together with other vendors operating at undesignated sites, are accused of blocking pavements, Harare City Council spokesman Mr Michael Chideme said yesterday the joint operations with police are yielding the intended results.
“We have operations that we are carrying out together and they are bringing in the intended results. On our own, we cannot carry out some of these operations, but with the assistance of the police we can,” he said. He expressed concern over some unruly members of the public, who were attacking both police and municipal police officers when conducting their duties.