The Reserve Bank’s Financial Intelligence Unit(FIU) shook everyone up yesterday when the public saw it’s latest move to target and take down “money changers” or illegal foreign currency dealers as it calls them in the official document shown below:
1. The Financial Intelligence Unit (FIU) has been monitoring social media platforms where foreign currency dealers have been advertising and promoting their illegal trade. The FIU is aware of WhatsApp groups that have mushroomed in the country for the specific purpose of promoting and facilitating illegal foreign currency trade.
2. The FIU, in collaboration with the police, banks, mobile money / mobile phone service providers and relevant regulatory agencies, has embarked on an exercise to identify and take action against individuals who create, advertise on or participate (actively or passively) in WhatsApp groups or other platforms for illegal foreign currency trading.
3. The FIU and relevant institutions will take the following immediate actions:
• The mobile phone numbers used to join or advertise on the illegal groups will be shared with mobile phone operators and POTRAZ for barring;
• Other mobile phone numbers registered in the names of such persons will also be identified and barred;
• Any mobile money wallets registered in the names of such persons will be frozen and the persons barred from accessing mobile money services with any operator;
• Bank accounts owned by a person so identified will be frozen and the person will be blacklisted and barred from accessing banking services with any bank; and
• Identified persons will be investigated and prosecuted for illegally trading in or advertising illegal trading in foreign currency.
4. Members of the public are requested to report to the FIU any person, mobile phone number or bank account that continue to be used to engage in or advertise illegal foreign currency activities, using the following contact details:
FIU mobile and WhatsApp number: 0714039897 Financial Intelligence Unit 15 June 2020
Now as you can see, the new motion essentially bans the posting of forex exchange rates online by anyone on WhatsApp or any social media platforms, with anyone being caught doing that having their phone number, and all other phone numbers in their name, barred, as well as all their bank accounts frozen and mobile money accounts as well. The move has scared people so much that it’s had lot’s of people taking down any of their online content or even websites and bots that showed the “street rate” of forex. And rightfully so, as obviously most of us have no idea just how far the FIU and RBZ will go in enforcing this implementation, and as such being too cautious is most people’s only recourse.
There is also however, the expected skepticism and critique from the public, as for many this still seems like a half measure move to cover up for the “real owners” of the black market. And like last month’s moves against Ecocash, people are near certain this move will only skyrocket the street rate and these money changers might only be scared for a few weeks before they come back charging astronomical rates again. This is all while the fixed rate, the one stated by the RBZ , continues to be paltry not only in the face of the street rate but also in comparison to almost every shop or retailer’s prices. You simply can’t buy anything using the fixed rate and the RBZ seems to be ignoring that, which is what has caused the street rate to exist in the first place.
And the opening statement to the RBZ statement even has a few people shaken up as well. The phrase “monitoring social media platforms where foreign currency dealers have been advertising and promoting their illegal trade” has some more conspiracy-savvy types bringing up how the government can likely monitor services like WhatsApp, something which seems very unlikely considering that simple joining of WhatsApp groups or checking some on Facebook gives a clear enough picture here, without needing to hack an end-to-end encrypted messaging service running on servers that aren’t even in Zimbabwe. And not to mention the obvious implications of these currency dealer being controlled by the country’s elite as well, hence they essentially control the rates too. It’s all a can of worms that causes more confusion in an economy that knows no form of stability now, and the common people don’t benefit from it at all. Hence our initial question returns; Just how far will this go? And for now, well, we’re as confused as anyone else here.