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THE central bank has said it plans to take punitive measures against foreign-owned banks that resist demands to transfer majority shareholding to local blacks under a controversial empowerment policy.

Zimbabwe is pushing plans to force all foreign companies to cede controlling stakes to locals; a policy officials insist is aimed at economically empowering the country’s historically maginalised black majority.

In an interview with the official Sunday Mail newspaper, Reserve Bank of Zimbabwe (RBZ) Governor Gideon Gono said the government was in consultation on how to handle the empowerment programme for the financial sector.

Gono did not say whether foreign banks had submitted plans to comply with empowerment laws but urged them to do so.

He gave no details of timeframes or what the RBZ's punitive measures would be, but appeared to suggest licences could be withdrawn.

"In my next monetary statement (expected in July), I will announce punitive measures we will be taking as a central bank against those banks showing signs of reluctance to comply.

"We cannot be having licences held by institutions that choose to be selective when it comes to which laws of the country to comply with and which ones not to."

Gono said Zimbabwe's banking sector was generally in a healthy state but could be threatened by a loss of staff at the central bank, where hundreds have applied to leave because of depleted resources, low wages and poor working conditions.

Foreign-owned banks in Zimbabwe include Barclays Bank, Standard Chartered Bank and Stanbic Zimbabwe -- a subsidiary of South Africa's Standard Bank.


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