SOME members of the Muslim community are urging the Government to reconsider amending legislation to speed up the time to implement the new polymer $100 bill.
The group, Concerned Muslims of T&T (CMTT), yesterday commended Government for seeking to replace the existing $100 bill to crack down on money laundering and other criminal activities.
However, it said the Government may have “bypassed” the fact that many Muslims do not bank the money they save because the Holy Qur’an prohibits them from “taking or paying interest”.
“The Government’s plan to change the time-frame from three months to 14 days in which the new $100 bill will be introduced into the community will also raise a lot of red flags when Muslims go to change this money they have been saving for many years,” said Imam Sheraz Ali, chairman of the group.
“They will be met with resistance and opposition from the banking sector, which has already, over the past few years, shown a lot of resistance, especially to Muslims when they come to change money or to bank money to conduct financial transactions,” he added.
The group held a media conference yesterday at the Nur-E-Islam Masjid in El Socorro to voice their concerns about the implementation of the new note.
At Thursday’s post-Cabinet news briefing, National Security Minister Stuart Young announced that a special sitting of the Senate will be held today to amend the Central Bank Act to change the existing required three months’ notice to demonetise the old $100 to “a minimum of 14 days”.
But Ali called on Young and Government to hold their hand on this move until they consider the fact that many law-abiding Muslims and others with large amounts of saved cash could be labelled money launderers when they try to exchange their cash in the “very short period of time”.
“One typical example are people who are saving to go for Hajj. Muslims once in a lifetime take this sacred pilgrimage of Hajj and many people save, for many years at their homes, enough money for it,” Ali said, adding that it costs between $50,000 to $70,000 to make the pilgrimage.
“After this bill is passed they are going to be faced with having to bring in that $50,000 within 14 days and to be able to prove that they were saving this money to go for Hajj,” he stated.
Bankers Association: no business disruption
Expressing support for the $100 bill change was the Bankers Association of Trinidad and Tobago (BATT).
BATT assured there will be no disruption to customers’ business and personal transactions during the period of transition.
“BATT underscores the importance of this initiative as part of a national strategy to improve the security features of the $100 note, by upgrading the capacity to protect against forgery and to facilitate its use by the visually impaired,” the association said in a media release.
BATT president Karen Darbasie said the durability and robust security features of the new note were aligned to best practice in global currency design.
Chamber: Extend time
Commenting on the issue, president of the Greater San Fernando Area Chamber of Commerce Kiran Singh said the initiative could help and be an effective tool in the continuing fight against crime and criminality in the country.
However, he said the Chamber had some concerns about it.
“We are in the midst of the Christmas season, the most active time for commercial activity in Trinidad and Tobago.
“The entire business community looks forward to this time of year, especially given the challenge that the economy is facing with little positive growth,” he said in a statement.
“Introducing a new monetary item into the system may cause disruptions if not properly managed.
“Employers and employees are at work 12 to 18 hours per day, seven days a week leading up to Christmas. Time for exchanging money would be difficult to find given the logistics of business operating hours.”
Singh said the banks which are extremely strict on opening hours can be stress-filled environments as the year comes to an end.
As such, he said the Chamber is recommending that the banking sector consider limited opening hours on Saturdays to facilitate the business community and private citizens to conduct business.
Call for more time
Joining the call for more time to be given for the implementation of the new $100 bill was the Trinidad and Tobago Manufacturers’ Association (TTMA).
“We agree that the timing may not be the most ideal, given that it is a high retail period...the hustle and bustle of the Christmas season,” TTMA president Franka Costelloe told the Express via phone.
“While the majority may have access to get to the bank and do the switch in the currency, and some businesses may not be affected by it as they have alternative paying methods, there are persons in remote areas, or who are immobile, or out of the country and there are a lot of businesses that rely on cash-base as well. So you never want to implement a policy that has any minority at a disadvantage,”
But overall, Costelloe said, the TTMA applauded the intent of the exercise, which is to combat corruption and money laundering.