The Central Bank of Nigeria (CBN) has suspended its earlier directive on the implementation of cashless policy that went live at the beginning of the month in 30 states of the federation.

This is even as the central bank said it would sanction banks denying Small and Medium Enterprises, (SMEs) access to foreign exchange (Forex) from the newly instituted ‘SMEs Forex Window.’

 

The cashless policy, which was introduced under the Sanusi-led central bank, was aimed at reducing the quantum of physical cash that is being used in the system in an attempt to cut down on cash handling expenses of banks. It was also targeted at getting more of the money in circulation into the system as well as track money laundering activities.

 

But was suspended in 2015 to allow banks deploy the technology that would allow the policy to operate seamlessly. Although the policy had taken effect in seven states, Lagos, Abia, Anambra, Kano, Ogun, Rivers as well as Abuja, the CBN had on August 2015 reversed the implementation directing banks to refund the charges deducted from the customers.

 

Two years after its implementation was suspended, the cashless policy again goes nationwide as the CBN directed banks to begin charging both withdrawals and deposits that exceed the stipulated amount for individuals and corporate bodies, since beginning of this month, April 1, 2017.

 

However, in what many financial stakeholders described as a policy reversal, the apex lender over the weekend again suspended its earlier directive on the implementation of cashless policy.

 

In a circular released on Friday, the apex bank instructed banks to revert to old charges and refund customers who had been debited.

 

CBN had earlier announced new charges on deposit and withdrawals above a threshold of N500,000.

 

The apex bank had directed banks to charge 5per cent and 10 per cent for deposits and withdrawals above N40 million in the corporate category.

 

The bank had fixed 1.5 per cent and 2per cent for deposits ranging from N500,000 and N1 million in the individual category.

 

But in the circular signed by Dipo Fatokun, director, banking and payments system department, CBN said the existing policy before the announcement of the new policy shall remain in place in Lagos, Ogun, Kano, Abia, Anambra, Rivers and Abuja.

 

“You will recall that a directive was issued on the nationwide implementation of the cashless policy vide our circulars with reference numbers BPS/DIR/GEN/CIR/04/001 dated February 21 and BPS/DIR/GEN/CIR/04/002 dated March 16,” the circular read.

 

“Please note that the new withdrawal and deposit processing fee charges above the threshold, as contained in the circulars referenced above, are hereby suspended until further notice. The position of the policy shall now revert to the status quo ante.”

 

The old charges to be reverted to 3per cent processing fee for withdrawals above N500,000 in the individual category and 5per cent for withdrawals above N3 million.

 

Meanwhile, the apex bank’s Acting Director, Corporate Communications, Isaac Okorafor, on Friday disclosed that appropriate sanctions are spelt out by the CBN Act, and the Banks and Other Financial Institutions Act (BOFIA).

 

The new window, which opened about two weeks ago, is designed to help SMEs import eligible finished and semi-finished items not exceeding $20,000 for an enterprise per quarter.

 

The CBN spokesperson said staff and even chief executives of banks could be punished where necessary, adding that the apex bank had already received series of complaints from bank customers, especially those that operate in the SMEs segment of the market that banks were frustrating their efforts at getting forex.

 

He noted that some entrepreneurs still complained that banks were frustrating their efforts at obtaining forex for their eligible imports after the stipulated 48 hours, adding that the regulator has reviewed the complaints and discovered they were not evidence-based.

 

The CBN, therefore, appealed to bank customers and the SMEs to provide concrete evidence against these banks so it could hold them responsible by way of sanctions, Mr. Okorafor said.

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