Zimbabwe’s banks were awash with so much cash-nine months after the introduction of the multiple currencies in 2009- that they did not seem to notice that the Reserve Bank of Zimbabwe had robbed them of $39 million.
A cable just released by Wikileaks says the banks had ample reserves beyond what the RBZ had diverted, and steady growth in deposits had helped the banking system to remain stable.
But the cable said the case could increase tension between Finance Minister Tendai Biti and RBZ Governor Gideon Gono.
Biti was at the time fighting to get Gono’s appointment nullified.
“And when the full story finally registers with the public,” the cable says. “Zimbabwe will look like an even riskier place to do business.
Viewing cable 09HARARE886, ZIMBABWE BANKS WHISTLE PAST THE GRAVEYARD
PP RUEHBZ RUEHDU RUEHJO RUEHMR RUEHRN
DE RUEHSB #0886/01 3111228
ZNR UUUUU ZZH
P 071228Z NOV 09
FM AMEMBASSY HARARE
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INFO RUCNSAD/SOUTHERN AF DEVELOPMENT COMMUNITY COLLECTIVE
RUEHAR/AMEMBASSY ACCRA 3160
RUEHDS/AMEMBASSY ADDIS ABABA 3272
RUEHBY/AMEMBASSY CANBERRA 2533
RUEHDK/AMEMBASSY DAKAR 2902
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RUEHGV/USMISSION GENEVA 2452
RUZEJAA/JAC MOLESWORTH RAF MOLESWORTH UK
RHMFISS/EUCOM POLAD VAIHINGEN GE
UNCLAS SECTION 01 OF 02 HARARE 000886
AF/S FOR B.WALCH
DRL FOR N.WILETT
ADDIS ABABA FOR USAU
ADDIS ABABA FOR ACSS
STATE PASS TO USAID FOR J.HARMON AND L.DOBBINS
STATE PASS TO NSC FOR SENIOR AFRICA DIRECTOR M.GAVIN
E.O. 12958: N/A
SUBJECT: ZIMBABWE BANKS WHISTLE PAST THE GRAVEYARD
Ref: Harare 863
¶1. (SBU) SUMMARY: Bankers in Harare seem not to have noticed that
the Reserve Bank of Zimbabwe (RBZ) has robbed them of US$39 million.
Local papers reported details of the RBZ’s latest malfeasance just
days after IMF officials gave details to the GOZ and diplomats
(reftel). The banks have ample reserves beyond what the RBZ has
diverted, and steady growth in deposits helps the banking system
remain stable. Even in the best case, this incident will increase
tension between Finance Minister Tendai Biti and RBZ Governor Gideon
Gono. And when the full story finally registers with the public,
Zimbabwe will look like an even riskier place to do business. END
¶2. (SBU) IMF officials recently told diplomats in Harare that the
RBZ had undermined the stability of the banking system by spending
banks’ reserve deposits. Within two days of the IMF briefing, local
papers had reported this tale of the ultimate in insider bank
heists, along with direct quotes from the IMF’s report to the GOZ.
But the press reports did not create queues of nervous bank
depositors rushing to withdraw money, and none of the banks have
complained in public. Even our own discreet enquiries revealed no
alarm among the banks.
¶3. (SBU) One reason Harare bankers remain calm is that past
experience of RBZ recklessness has taught them to take precautions.
Beyond the minimum reserves required by RBZ rules (10 percent of
deposits), the banks maintain excess reserves equivalent to at least
5 percent of deposits. And the banks remain cautious about lending.
The volume of bank credit is still less than half of deposits. In
1999, by contrast, banks’ loans to the private sector exceeded 90
percent of deposits.
¶4. (SBU) Like other victims of Ponzi schemes, the banks also have
empirical reasons to hope for the best. There has been rapid growth
in deposits since February, so the RBZ has seen a steady increase in
banks’ required reserves. As a consequence, when a given bank
experiences a decline in deposits and requires a refund of required
reserves, the RBZ has always been able to fund that obligation
through the increase in other banks’ reserve deposits. This is a
risky game for a central bank to play, but the RBZ can get away with
it as long as the level of deposits is rising. So far, according to
our banking contacts, the RBZ has never failed to refund reserves to
a bank when necessary.
¶5. (SBU) It is also possible that the banks may not yet be aware of
the scale of the RBZ’s latest malfeasance. While at least one
independent newspaper has the full story as set out in the IMF’s
report, the reporting so far has not been entirely coherent. The
main point may have escaped the notice of even financially astute
readers. One bank director told us it was bad for the RBZ to spend
bank’s reserves, but the practice could be tolerated as long as most
of the reserves were left in place and the RBZ did not use the
Qof the reserves were left in place and the RBZ did not use the
banks’ money to fund its operations. In fact, as of the end of
August the RBZ had diverted over 80 percent of banks’ required
reserve balances to fund salaries, pay off debts, and even subsidize
the national airline.
¶6. (SBU) COMMENT: This incident is sure to escalate the friction
between Biti and Gono. Biti and his party, the MDC, have been
trying to remove Gono from his position since the formation of the
transitional government in February. They will cite the reserves
fiasco as further evidence of Gono’s incompetence. When the story
broke, Gono publicly stated that the Ministry of Finance was to
blame because it had not given the RBZ sufficient funding. Whether
they are still in the dark or just pretending to be, the banks will
inevitably find it necessary to protect their interests. Once the
penny drops, so to speak, they could confront the RBZ and insist on
HARARE 00000886 002 OF 002
having the missing funds restored (as the IMF has already done).
Additionally, they can scale back lending to improve their reserve
positions. In any event, the full story will eventually emerge and
do further damage to Zimbabwe’s battered business climate. END