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Debate in Tunisia over Role of Currency Exchange against Black Market

Debate in Tunisia over Role of Currency Exchange against Black Market

Thursday, 15 August, 2019 - 09:00
A shopkeeper counts money in of his shop at a bazar in Tunis, Tunisia. (Reuters file photo)
Tunis - Mongi Saidani

The Central Bank of Tunisia (BCT) has allowed foreign exchange activities outside the banking system, in favor of a group of licensed manual exchange offices. This has allowed financial activities to develop and evolve over the past months, reaching about 25 offices, up from seven in June.

BCT Governor Marouane Abassi confirmed that the bank has approved 45 applications to open exchange offices since the beginning of the year, which is expected to contribute to increasing the number of those offices that work in coordination with the Central Bank and the rest of the banking system.

Abbasi hopes this will curb illegal and speculative activities that are part of illegal financial operations, such as in the black market.

There are currently six exchange offices in Tunis, six in Sousse and three in each of Nabeul, Mahdia and Madania.

Legally, exchange offices are bound to the BCT, which determines the conditions for obtaining their licenses and the reasons for revoking their authorization in case of breaches.

Anyone wishing to engage in manual exchange is required to provide a bank guarantee of about $17,000 to the central bank.

The bank confirmed that licensed manual exchange offices will contribute to the legalization of currency purchase, which will limit illegal means of buying and selling currencies in Tunisia.

At least $1 billion is traded outside the banking system, leading to enormous economic damage resulting from the decline in domestic reserve of foreign currencies and banks losing a significant financial commission from various exchange operations, according to official statistics.

Some experts are skeptical about the effectiveness of these offices in reducing the phenomenon of illegal speculation in hard currency.

However, others believe that the results are beginning to emerge, as Tunisia's foreign exchange reserves have risen to around 95 supply days, after hitting a low of 73 during in early 2019.

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