Arusha. A former cashier with a tour company here, now running his private business, had a deal with a colleague last week and was paid $200 (about Sh460,000) for the services he rendered.
In normal times, changing $200 or even larger amounts of the convertible currency would not bother anybody in Arusha.
One would just pop into any bureau de change to get the Tanzanian shillings equivalent and proceed to his or her daily business.
But this was not the case for the former cashier-cum-accountant now running his business in a suburb on the fringes of Arusha city.
He was paid the money ($200) on Friday afternoon, ‘a small change’ for his wallet by any standards.
With the foreign exchange shops closed since November 19, his option was to go to commercial banks. Most had closed business by late afternoon that day.
On Saturday, he went to the Bank of Tanzania (BoT) to heed repeated calls to those possessing foreign currency that money changing services were available. Unfortunately, like so many people here - including those possessing the hard currencies -he does not frequent the central bank and for obvious reasons.
And he was not surprised when, on reaching there, he was told money changing services at the central bank were not available on that particular day, being a weekend or so.
Shortly before 4pm on Monday, The Citizen found the ever smiling accountant outside one of the major and formerly state-owned commercial banks along the Sokoine Road. Although he was there to change the $ 200 which had now become burden as it cannot be used in normal transactions despite Arusha being a ‘dollar city’.
“I had sent somebody to do the job for me. I can’t do all the paper work required. It is bothersome”, he said. Minutes later, the doors of the bank were shut with his man sent still inside to change money either in the queue or filling papers before getting the Tanzanian shillings.
The accountant is just one among scores of people -probably hundreds - in Arusha now subjected to long procedures to change their foreign currencies or buy them.
Since the closure of the currency changing shops by the central bank nine days ago, the brisk business of money changing in Tanzania’s tourism hub had been dealt a blow.
The BoT governor, Prof Florens Luoga, said the foreign exchange shops had been shut down on suspicion of being a conduit for money laundering and other illegal transactions or operating without licenses.
Until yesterday, the 20-plus forex shops in Arusha normally packed with clients throughout the day remained closed. The central bank says investigations were on-going and those found to be implicated in the fraud would be prosecuted.
Reached for comment, the zonal BoT manager in Arusha Charles Yamo said does know either when the closed shops would be re-opened. “Send your questions and I will forward them to the concerned for response. I am not the spokesperson on the issue,” he said.
Residents interviewed complained that buying dollars from the commercial banks was difficult. One has to produce a national ID card, passport and other IDs and sometimes a letter of introduction from some authorities.
Selling the hard currency is equally not easy. People fear they may end up being questioned as to where they got the foreign money as it used to be in the distant past.
Until the closure of the outlets, anybody could simply pop into the bureaux, hand over the green buck and smile all the way into the streets loaded with lots of notes.