THERE are 80 million $100 bills (valued at $8 billion) currently in circulation in Trinidad and Tobago, Finance Minister Colm Imbert said yesterday.
And adequate supplies of the new polymer notes to replace those in circulation “have been manufactured and printed. And I guess you would realise the traffic outside (in the vicinity of the Central Bank), an exercise is in progress. I will say no more on that. I had to walk (to Parliament at Tower D), but I didn’t mind”, he said yesterday.
The new polymer $100 bills were delivered to the Central Bank in Port of Spain yesterday, accompanied by armed police and army personnel.
The roads around the Central Bank were temporarily closed to vehicular traffic to accommodate delivery of the bills by container truck.
It caused traffic in other parts of Port of Spain, Wrightson Road and Woodbrook for a couple of hours yesterday.
Imbert said T&T followed the example of Mauritius where the design, manufacture and printing of the new notes had been done before the programme of replacement started.
Imbert said the only problem which existed in Mauritius with the changeover, “and I suspect this would be quite possible in Trinidad and Tobago, was the last-minute turnout at commercial banks by numerous persons nearer to the date fixed for the final redemption of the bills”.
He recalled in the last tax amnesty, there was a line on the deadline day, stretching from the Board of Inland Revenue all the way to Independence Square.
Imbert said the legislation would be a big win for Trinidad and Tobago at the Financial Action Task Force (FATF) and Global Forum levels because it strikes at the heart of the underground economy—at tax evaders, drug traffickers and money launderers who are the primary concern of FATF and the Global Forum.
If it works, it would be a big win for Trinidad and Tobago in terms of its credibility with these organisations, he said.
Imbert said there was an underground economy in T&T, although he did not know the size of it.
He said in some countries where demonetisation had been done, savings in the banks went up because people who had money in mattresses or boxes brought it in and deposited their cash into the banks.
He said quite often the level of consumption and economic activity increased.
Opposition Senator Saddam Hosein raised the issue of the difficulties Muslims might have because of the prohibition on placing money in interest-bearing accounts, leading to many of them having legitimately obtained money at home for which they may not have records because the money was saved over a period of time.
Senator: People may be
deprived of income
He said people who were self-employed as the owners of parlours or who were taxi-drivers might have similar difficulties accounting for money saved over the period of time, in the context of the rigid policies adopted by the banks.
Hosein said if the banks refused to accept and exchange these monies, these persons would suffer a deprivation of income.
He said he assumed the formal date of notice of the demonetisation would be tomorrow, given the fact the Government brought out the Senate yesterday, but pleaded for a reasonable time frame for the exchange of notes, given that Christmas is a busy period.
Hosein also raised the issue of whether the ATMs (automated teller machines) at banks would be able to accept the new notes and whether banks would have to adjust their software and hardware to accommodate the new notes.
He said in Aruba, it took the banks six months before their machines were adjusted to accept the notes.
He noted former Central Bank governor Jwala Rambarran attempted to replace all T&T bank notes with the polymer notes, and asked why was the $100 note now being replaced.
He also expressed disappointment the minister did not say what would now constitute a large transaction and what would be the date of the cancellation of the old bills.