Last week, Minister of National Security Stuart Young announced that the country would switch from paper versions of its hundred-dollar bill to a polymer version. It was unusual for that kind of information to be led in the public consciousness by the national security minister particularly since the release of the $50 polymer note was sold on the basis of its durability and advanced anti-counterfeiting features.
Such statements are also normally the province of the sitting Governor of the Central Bank who represents the authority entrusted with matters of currency issue and control. That Young felt it necessary to lead that discussion lends an ominous air to the decision to change the currency, one that's only compounded by the Government's haste to begin removing the paper version of the currency from circulation.
It's taken four years for the second polymer note to be introduced in TT after former Central Bank governor Jwala Rambaran introduced the new $50 bill in 2015. The Government has never explained why it paused the polymer money project despite plans already in place to replace the hundred-dollar bill by the end of 2015.
On Friday, the House of Representatives voted unanimously to pass the Miscellaneous Provisions (Proceeds of Crime and Central Bank) Bill 2019 as piloted by Finance Minister Colm Imbert, and the Senate sat on Saturday to debate the bill. Among the provisions of the bill is a shortening of the notification period for demonetising the older version of the hundred-dollar bill, cutting the time from three months to 14 days.
The focus of this change is, apparently, to make it more difficult for anyone who cannot explain their wealth, as required by existing money laundering law, to convert ill-gotten gains hoarded as cash into the new notes. Opposition to the speed of the change has focused on the troubling experience in India when a mass currency exchange was undertaken in 2016 for exactly the same reasons leading to significant economic disruption and cash shortages. Young promised that there would be adequate cash available for the exchanges and banks who have declared their support, would be ready for the change.
"So no need for any scare there," he promised.
The support of the Opposition to the bill and its provisions is unsurprising. Any attempt to curtail crime's lifeblood, dirty money in the economy, is a sensible move worthy of political backing.
What the Government has not explained is why it is moving so quickly on the matter, even calling out the Senate on a Saturday, when it did not find the idea worthy of action for four years, despite formally announced Central Bank strategic objectives announced to do exactly that since 2016.