South/Central chambers lament Xmas changeover of $100

Members of the protective services secure the area around the Central Bank, Port of Spain where trailers carrying the new one hundred dollar bills are off loaded on Saturday December 7, 2019. - ANGELO MARCELLE
Members of the protective services secure the area around the Central Bank, Port of Spain where trailers carrying the new one hundred dollar bills are off loaded on Saturday December 7, 2019. - ANGELO MARCELLE

The change of the paper $100 to the new polymer note can lead to chaos and frustration for citizens.

On Monday, at a meeting of the Confederation of Regional Business Chambers, several chambers raised concerns about the process, Couva/Point Lisas Chamber of Commerce president Ramchand Maraj told Business Day. His members, he said, took issue with the timing of the move.

"What would happen with senior citizens at month-end and they have to go to the bank and 100 per cent of the population will also be going?

"It will be chaotic and lead to a level of frustration for (senior citizens) and all citizens."

He said the polymer bill is a good idea and the chamber is all for it but reiterated that the timing is "a bit off."

On Monday, Central Bank governor Alvin Hilaire said the paper-based $100 note will no longer be legal tender from December 31. (However, the legal notice, dated December 8, says the date is January 1.)

"It is a time when small and medium businesses would be making a little profit (and for some) the only time of the year. Even roadside vendors (would be affected). This is putting a strain on them and would lead to some frustration," Maraj said.

"We agree the change should be made. We are in agreement with the purpose of it. But just the timing of it is in bad taste."

Maraj said the short period, of three weeks before the end of the month, is causing additional stress.

"This morning (Tuesday) a member calling and said the ATM machine was not taking or giving out any cash and there were long lines at the bank from 7 am."

He said the chamber heads want to know if the banks are equipped with the ATMs to dispense the bills and whether they will be available at the counters.

He added the $50 polymer bill was still difficult to access and was not available from most banks' ATMs.

"Those are things very worrisome to us as chamber people."

He added: "We hope there isn’t chaos and confusion and a mad rush at various financial institutions that could cause any violence.”

There were long lines at banks on Tuesday, the first day the polymer blue note was issued to the public.

Penal/Debe Chamber of Commerce president Rampersad Sieuraj said his chamber is on record as saying it is in agreement with the change.

However, he said, "As of today (Tuesday), the business community has serious concerns about queueing and banking issues that people will be encountering."

He predicted there would be long queues and difficulties in being able to deposit all the money. There is also a challenge for the unbanked.

Sieuraj explained that Penal/Debe is a predominantly agricultural area, with many farmers who would stash cash away. He said they had not opened bank accounts before, and with the change would now seek to open accounts. He added, however, that banks are asking farmers to set up business accounts, which may take some time, and the process may not be completed before December 30 – the last day for transactions with the paper notes.

"So that creates a problem as well."

Sieuraj also said the business sector is hampered by the timing of the change, during the Christmas season.

"The timing is very, very bad, given the Christmas season."

He explained that at small and medium enterprises, people may walk in with $100, spend $2 and want change, and the owners may not know how to identify fake notes. He said challenges would also be faced by sole proprietors.

He reported supermarkets in the area would have to wait until January 2 to bank their money, and asked when exactly the cutoff will be and what arrangements will be put in place with the banks. He said, as with other measures announced by Government, there may need to be an amnesty for another week.

"There has to be some clarity on what is happening."

He also questioned how the debate in Parliament could be fruitful when it occurred over two days and the new notes were already in the country.

"These measures were taken a while ago and the processes were in place to have these funds shipped to the country. How do you then debate for a day or two?

"Then the debate was just a routine matter of taking the population for a fool."

He recalled that National Security Minister Stuart Young, in announcing the change at the post-Cabinet media briefing last Thursday, said the initiative was meant to target illegal wealth and to crack down on corrupt and illegal activity.

Customers line up outside Republic Bank on Park Street, Port of Spain on Tuesday December 10, 2019 waiting to exchange their old $100 notes for the new polymer notes. - JEFF K MAYERS

"The chamber welcomes any measure for good governance, transparency and accountability."

Sieuraj questioned why no one had been brought to justice for the perceived illegal activity.

"What are the steps to be taken to ensure there is justice with black money? How will large sums of cash coming into the system (with the change of the currency) be addressed?"

He said there must be some clarity from the banks and asked what will happen after this measure is completed.

Banks, in a statement on Monday, said existing customers can access $50,000 worth of the new $100 polymer bills. Existing bank customers who want to withdraw or exchange more than $50,000 were told to "inform their bank of their needs and the bank will make best efforts to provide same within 48 hours of notification. Such deposits and/or cash exchange will be subject to the standard due diligence requirements of each bank."

The unbanked – those without accounts – will be subject to a $10,000 limit and will have to sign a declaration of their source of funds.

Despite concerns, Sieuraj said if the replacement of the currency improves tax collection and reveals tax evaders, then the chamber welcomes the move.

"There are too much uncollected taxes and if this will help then we are in."

He said increased tax collection will positively affect the economy and the new polymer note's being more difficult to counterfeit is another benefit.

"We anticipate the changes will cause disruption and hopefully root out illegally-held assets. Our major concern is the rooting out of corruption after these measures,” Sieuraj said."I hope the Government will see it necessary to have these matters addressed."


"South/Central chambers lament Xmas changeover of $100"

More in this section