Sunday, September 27, 2020

Bank of Botswana should recall the P10 note

At the beginning of each year, everyone nurses high hopes that things will work out well this time around.

It is even customary to circulate good will messages amongst ourselves wishing one another good health and prosperity.
This is also a time to offer counsel to those who erred in the previous year so that they do the right things right. It is against this background that I wish to address the Bank of Botswana (BoB) in relation to the state of the Ten Pula (P10) banknote released at the end of August 2009. Perhaps it suffices to mention that it is probably the first time that postÔÇôindependence Botswana ever circulated such a low quality banknote.

This dramatic deterioration in the quality of our banknote amounts to an insult, a worst professional aberration by our Central Bank, a national disgrace of unpardonable proportions. It must be recalled that in August 2009, just less than six months ago, the Bank of Botswana announced that they are introducing a new family of banknotes to satisfy current international trends in the use of the latest technology in banknote design that incorporates latest security features. When launching the banknotes, President Khama proudly proclaimed that a country’s currency is a symbol of nationhood and identity. My understanding is that for a currency to truly mirror national pride and identity, the banknotes and/or coins in circulation should possess relevant features and materials used for making such notes.

They should be of high quality in order to reflect the importance the nation attaches to its currency.

Unfortunately, our P10 banknote is simply of an inferior brand. Certainly the quality of the P10 banknote invalidates BoB’s assertion that they used the latest technology in banknote design unless if such technology is pretty primitive. Their reference to the use of the latest technology is therefore no more than romantic self-praise and emotional blackmail. It is amazing that the security thread of the P10, undoubtedly one of the most important features of banknotes, should be the one that so easily peels off under minimal pressure. This has created public pessimism and heightened chances of fake notes flooding the market especially given the proliferation of sophisticated computer image scanners. Already retail businesses are reluctant to accept the P10 banknote for fear of taking fake notes. For my part I am reluctant to accept the P10 banknote when given as change. I’d rather prefer coins than be in possession of a banknote that is embarrassing by making one look like a fraudster when using it to settle a bill. To many visitors the P10 banknote resembles a home-made piece of paper money. I also suspect that given its inferior brand, the P10 banknote would not be recognized by vending machines because they will mistake it for toilet paper. I am not asking BoB to make banknotes from leather or some bullet proof materials but Botswana deserves better. The Poor quality of banknotes complicates the authentication and overall handling of banknotes. Due to rapid wear and tear as well as the easiness with which they get dirty and start smelling like decomposed human remains, our P10 banknotes will require too frequent printing to ensure regular supply of clean notes and this is likely to cost the country.

It is generally accepted that the average life of a banknote is two (2) years but surely our P10 banknote cannot live longer than a mere six (6) months more especially since it is a low denomination note with extensive circulation. It is on the basis of this apprehension that I call upon BoB to recall the P10 banknote and discontinue its circulation as a matter urgency. BoB should also institute a commission of enquiry to investigate circumstances leading to the poor quality of this particular banknote. The nation deserves a convincing explanation and a sincere apology. BoB has to clear its name from suspected professional and procedural impropriety, especially after some people suspected that it was possible the banknotes were hurriedly printed ahead of the 2009 general election in order to bolster President Khama’s image.

This is a serious accusation and a blot on the credibility of the Central Bank. The quality of the P10 banknotes however gives credence to these bizarre and damning accusations that could in the long run cause a major shake up in the entire operational structure of the bank. Another theory is that the poor quality of the P10 banknotes suggests a conspiracy to sabotage President Khama’s political image ahead of the general election particularly that the banknotes at the center of controversy bears Khama’s portrait.

Was it a calculated move to embarrass President Khama by making him the first state president to have his portrait on banknote made of toilet paper? A thorough investigation is necessary to get to the bottom of the crisis and find out whether there has been a conspiracy to sabotage President Khama or shore up his political pedigree ahead of a general election or whether this is the product of a rogue deadwood.
Whatever the case is, the two conspiracy theories bandied about suggest a confluence of factors that point to a possible rot at the Central Bank.

Thus, a full investigation will afford the BoB an opportunity to clear its name from a two legged conspiracy that perhaps involved possible pressure from some BDP strongmen at the Office of the President or Ministry of Finance to have the banknotes released ahead of the General Election. Such an investigation is also crucial to restore public confidence in the operations of the Central Bank and safeguard its credibility. Nothing is more important to the operations of BoB than credibility and integrity.

BoB should commence their 2010 operations on a high by dispelling these accusations in a meticulously professional and transparent manner, not through the usual arrogant denials that have become a defining feature of most public institutions. BoB should not be allowed to ignore or simply gloss over public outcry on this issue or suppress it with savage cruelty as has happened with other issues of national significance.

Production and issuance of banknotes is a national project and deserves to be handled in a transparent, responsible and accountable manner that befits our status as a stable economy. We should never let the Governor of BoB to emulate Gideon Gono, the Governor of the Reserve Bank of Zimbabwe who seems to have made printing more and more Zimbabwean Dollars his dearest hobby ÔÇô a hobby that eventually caused the country to have the highest inflation in living memory. If BoB decides to treat this issue as a dead rubber, the public will have to intervene by collecting the P10 for shredding to remove them from the supply chain and spare ourselves further inconvenience, extended embarrassment and ridicule. We have endured enough ridicule and contempt from foreign nationals who comment that we must have used the cheapest toilet paper on offer to make the P10 banknote.

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Sunday Standard September 27 – 3 October

Digital copy of Sunday Standard issue of September 27 - 3 October, 2020.