Rude awakening for Chamunorwa

New Financial Gazette editor-in-chief, Sunsleey Chamunorwa, received a rude awakening when he was called in to bail out the paper after an exodus of staff to the Daily News. Not only did he inherit a paper which had virtually no reporters but he immediately came under siege when a building society and the central bank challenged the veracity of his lead story. Not to be outdone, Information Minister, Jonathan Moyo challenged his second lead as a pack of lies.

This was a baptism of fire for the new editor as it gave the impression that he did not match the calibre of the team that had left to join their former boss, Francis Mdlongwa, at the Daily News. But he stuck to his guns despite the barrage of press statements, allegedly setting the record straight, that would have shaken any editor.

In the lead story the Financial Gazette had reported that four financial institutions, Beverley Building Society, First Merchant Bank, Zimbabwe Development Bank Finance and Trustfin were facing a liquidity crunch. Agribank, Metropolitan, Genesis and Leasing Company of Zimbabwe were also trading on shaky ground.

Beverley responded to the story a day after publication, stating "emphatically that the allegations and inferences in the Financial Gazette's lead story….are wholly incorrect." It said the story contained no truth whatsoever and was taking the matter up "in the necessary quarters".

The central bank said the report was "false and misleading". "The Reserve Bank of Zimbabwe would like to assure the public that the banking sector in Zimbabwe is safe and sound. There is a comprehensive and effective early warning system, and distressed institutions are dealt with in accordance with the Troubled and Insolvent Banks Policy", the statement said. It said it was concerned about the adverse impact that false and misleading reports can have on the banking system. "The Bank, therefore, appeals to the media to be responsible, and to report accurately on the banking and financial services sector".

Apparently, The Insider, has leant and saw the report on which the story was based. It was in fact from the central bank itself. The central bank must have been shocked at how the report had been leaked to the press because the financial institutions involved had not even seen the report.

But it is not clear why the central bank spent almost a month rebutting its own report unless there was a communication breakdown within the central bank itself. And the Financial Gazette story only lifted a portion of the report. If it had published the full report, as the paper intended to after it was put under pressure to retract its story, some financial institutions could have collapsed. Sources say the raid on Beverley alone was in excess of $2 billion within days as investors withdrew their money fearing the society would collapse. Perhaps this is what the central bank was concerned about.

But the story, has also highlighted a very important issue. Local banks have always boasted that they meet international standards, but they have dismally failed depositors as they cannot pay their clients their money when they want it.

It is easier to blame everything on the central bank but whispers say, though some companies may be hoarding their cash, several supermarkets and other cash businesses are depositing their money into banks. One supermarket employee even complained that he could not get $20 000 from the bank yet they had deposited $100 million that morning.

The report also said the central bank was worried about the contagion effect as most financial institutions were diversifying too much as this could lead to the collapse of the financial institutions if one of the operations went into trouble. Most banks have turned themselves into holding companies and their operations now include insurance, stockbroking, microfinance and banking.

But despite the early scare, Chamunorwa has survived. The question now being asked is, for how long? Though he has turned the Financial Gazette into more of a financial paper, whispers say the newspapers owners are not too happy with some of the stories he has been dishing out. He has been hitting the business sector too hard, and whispers say, the owners might want to remove him to distance his stories from the owners.

While that might not mean much to Chamunorwa as he is not likely to lose any of his benefits, it would be a sad loss to the journalism fraternity as he was bringing in a new brand of business reporting, based on documented evidence.

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