outside Central Bank

Members of the public line up outside Central Bank yesterday, at the corner of Independence Square and Edward Street Port of Spain, as they await their turn to exchange the old hundred dollar bills for the new polymer notes. —Photo: ROBERT TAYLOR

THERE were long lines outside the Central Bank in Port of Spain yesterday, as people rushed to exchange old $100 bills for new polymer notes, on the final day to complete the transaction.

Most people in the line were not maintaining proper social distancing, the Express observed.

The transition from cotton to new polymer notes was announced on December 5 and the public was initially given until January 1, 2020 to exchange old notes.

A three-month extension was granted to facilitate exchanges, for those who were out of the country or otherwise unable to meet the January 1 deadline.

The deadline expired yesterday, with some citizens expressing concern that due to measures implemented to curb the spread of the coronavirus, they were not able to go to the Central Bank to exchange their old bills.

The Express spoke to several people in the line who said, the Central Bank should extend the time in light of the COVID-19 pandemic.

COVID quarantine

Antony Wilson from Arima said, he came to the bank before the deadline, but the lines were too long and then he came into contact with a third party, who tested positive for COVID-19 and he had to self-quarantine for 14 days.

“How the National Security Minister could say they reducing the number of people gathered from ten to five when there is over 100 people here and social distancing is not really being exercised. It also makes you question if people who are supposed to be in self-quarantine, came out as yesterday, was the last day to change their old $100 notes,” he argued.

A man from Chaguanas who wanted to be identified only as “Ricky”, said he was part of the rush yesterday, because he was cleaning up over the weekend and found some old $100 notes.

But he believed the date should be extended as the lines were too long.

Susan Babooram from Maraval, agreed that an extension should be given as people who came into the country to change their money had to self-quarantine and other citizens were scared to come out of their houses to line up.

Onika Yearwood from Carenage said, she found old $100 notes while cleaning out her house last week and decided to come and change it as yesterday was the last day. And Tunapuna resident Margaret (who only wanted to give her first name) said she was not pleased that no official was there to ensure citizens practised proper social distancing.

Health and safety reasons

TV6 news contacted Finance Minister Colm Imbert to enquire whether an extension was being considered.

He said it was not at this time.

“For health and safety reasons, it doesn’t make sense. We will look at this again after April 15, to see if there is any merit at all in an extension but it’s not practical or safe at this time. “Please note that there has been no extension of the original deadlines to be clear, the decision today is no extension,” Imbert stated.

Questioned about the issue during a virtual news conference in Port of Spain earlier yesterday, National Security Minister Stuart Young said he has discussed the matter with the Minister of Finance. However, he said enough time had been given.

“Every single person who had a $100 bill in their hand knew that the deadline date was going to be 31st of March. Nobody could have predicted COVID-19 but it remained open,” said Young.

“So at the end of the day a sufficient period has been exhausted but the government will give some consideration and we will have that conversation.”

At this stage, no decision has been made, he said.

The old cotton note ceased being legal tender at midnight on January 1, three weeks after the changeover to the new note was announced.

Young said the demonetisation process was successfully done and is now a “global first class test of how efficiently it was carried out.”

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