A sudden shortage of dollars in circulation in Tajikistan has led to another dip in the value of national currency, the somoni.
At the start of the year, official figures showed the greenback trading at around 7.9 somoni. This week, currency exchange points were trading at just over 8 somoni to the dollar, but the US banknote was, in fact, hard to find at all.
The black market, which has come under intensified scrutiny in the past couple of years, was reportedly trading the US currency at around 8.30 somoni on February 17.
While major banks like Agroinvestbank, Tojiksodirotbank, Oriyonbank had no dollars to speak of, some smaller lenders had small amounts to go around, according to news website Asia-Plus.
Market watchers suspect that the reason for the sudden dollar crisis is linked to the recent effort by the government to recapitalize a number of distressed banks, which then proceeded to pay out account-holders who have been unable to withdraw their savings for several months. Worried about possible devaluations to the somoni, people getting their hands on that cash have quickly sought to convert it into relatively more secure dollars.
Tajikistan has mainly resorted to “administrative resources” to keep the currency on an even keel.
In December 2015, the National Bank ordered the closure of all unauthorized currency exchange points in the city. After that, only banks were able to perform foreign exchange operations. Anybody found violating this new arrangement could face jail terms of up to nine years. Also, banks are forbidden by law from selling somoni at more then 1.5 percent the rate established by the National Bank.
The National Bank has tried to assure local media that all is well with the somoni and that regulators and prosecutors are keeping a close eye on things.
“Banks have enough local and foreign cash to carry out purchases and sales [of currency]. Foreign exchange transactions are being carried out without any restrictions,” the National Bank noted in a statement easily disproved by a visit to most banks in the country.
Even the Finance Ministry has long freely admitted the somoni is set for gradual devaluation, which explains why people are so eager to get rid of their stocks. According to the ministry’s forecasts, the somoni is projected to slide to 9.6 somoni to the dollar this year, to 10.4 somoni in 2018 and to 11.2 somoni in 2019. How officials can purport to be so confident in an economic landscape as uncertain as Tajikistan’s though is anybody’s guess.
Sign up for Eurasianet's free weekly newsletter. Support Eurasianet: Help keep our journalism open to all, and influenced by none.