By Richard Chirombo
Kenwilliams Mhango: Where do we go without forex
As the problem of foreign exchange shortage continues to bite,
Authorized Dealer Banks (ADBs) have set different limits on the
quantity of foreign exchange individuals can draw from personal and
A snap survey conducted between Wednesday and Thursday revealed that
banks remain the preferred sources of forex, although forex-counter
personnel from all the ADBs visited said their forex reserves were
These include Inde Bank, Standard Bank, NBS Bank, Malawi Savings
Bank, National Bank, and FDX Forex Bureau. Forex buying rates in these
financial institutions ranged from K161.19 to K161.98 while forex
selling rates ranged from K165.28 to K168.115.
However, the ADBs differed on the issue of forex purchase-limits, with
different players charging differently, depending on whether it is a
business of personal account.
For example, while the forex-withdrawal limit for United States
Dollars was 3000 at FDX Forex Bureau, at Nico complex in Blantyre,
workers at Top Mandala Inde Bank said the bank has set no limits on
the amount of foreign currency one can purchase.
However, customers using business accounts at National Bank Victoria
Avenue Branch could purchase as much as 5000, in stark contrast to
Standard Bank Blantyre Branch, where a counter official said the
purchase limit on business accounts was US$3800, and those with
personal accounts could not withdraw more than US$2,200.
One of the people who have been to different banks in search of forex,
Kenwilliams Mhango, suspected that ADBs have set different limits on
forex as one way of maintaining control over the little they have in
“However, I think this is not working because the forex is not there
at all. Some people have been waiting for forex for six months now,”
Mhango said he knows of people who have been on the waiting list for
eight months, noting that the situation was creating opportunities for
parallel market trading.
The Bankers Association of Malawi (Bam) says it has equally been
affected by the forex shortage problem, with its president, John
Biziwick, shifting part of the blame on Reserve Bank of Malawi’s (RBM)
decision to route money generated through tobacco sales through its
own system, as opposed to ADBs.
Biziwick maintains that ADBs’ core line of business remains forex
trading, and that the Central Bank’s decision has hurt the banking
In addition to this, Bam chief executive officer, Lyness Nkungula,
says failure by local companies to import materials was making it
difficult for banks to operate.
“On forex shortage, I will answer this by giving an example. You have
heard that companies are failing to import materials because of forex
shortage. These are bank customers and they process the payment
through banks. So, if bank customers are affected; obviously the banks
are, too,” says Nkungula in a written response.
Asked to comment on who was responsible for setting forex purchase
limits, RBM spokesperson Ralph Tseka said on Thursday he could not
immediately respond since “I am cruising, on my way to Lilongwe”. He
promised to respond to questions Friday morning.
However, when called on Friday, Tseka said he was consulting and would
e-mail and call later. He never did.
But one of RBM’s officials said the central bank is responsible for
fixing forex purchase limits, and that ADBs take the cue from RBM.
The official added, however, that the amount of foreign currency
customers could buy depended on the nature of activity the money is
He said it was not uncommon for business enterprises to negotiate and
purchase more forex than RBM’s stipulated limits.
However, said the official, customers purchasing forex for personal
use were not allowed to exceed their limits since the effects of their
purchases on national development could not be validated.
Nevertheless, it was clear from the snap survey that ADBs have devised
means of coming over the problem. Almost all the ADBs visited said
they were giving their customers cash purchase passports (cards),
giving them the opportunity to spend money abroad.
The ADBs credit the money to the customers’ accounts.