February 28, 2019 / 6:03 PM / a year ago

Tanzania revokes licenses of exchange bureaus operating illegally - central bank

DAR ES SALAAM, Feb 28 (Reuters) - Tanzania said on Thursday it was revoking licenses from some exchange bureaus in the commercial capital Dar es Salaam, a day after the government banned a newspaper for using unofficial data on exchange rates.

The move comes as the shilling is down 0.34 percent from the beginning of the year, data from the central bank website showed.

“The central bank of Tanzania has started the process of revoking the licenses of bureaus which were found to be operating illegally,” the central bank said in a statement.

The statement comes a day after a leading newspaper was banned for a week for publishing a story about the depreciating currency that drew on unofficial data from exchange bureaus, the paper’s editor said. It was the latest incident in a series of restrictions muzzling the media. It was unclear if the two events were related.

The government ordered English language daily The Citizen to cease publication for a week beginning Feb. 27 over an article on the falling shilling, said Bakari Machumu, the executive editor of the newspaper’s owners, Mwananchi Communications Ltd.

“The newspapers registrar wrote ... asking why we used data that were not provided by the Bank of Tanzania,” Machumu said.

Mwananchi Communications is a subsidiary of Kenya-based Nation Media Group (NMG), one of East Africa’s largest media conglomerates.

The Citizen did not appear on newsstands on Thursday and its website was offline.

Government spokesman Hassan Abbas did not return calls seeking comment on the newspaper’s suspension.

The shilling’s depreciation in the region’s third-biggest economy will make it more difficult to service Tanzania’s external debt, which stood at $21 billion in December.

President John Magufuli’s government has embarked on an ambitious program of industrialisation, but foreign investment in the country has fallen after contentious government interventions in the mining and agriculture sectors.

Foreign direct investment fell to 2 percent of GDP in 2017, down from about 5 percent in 2014, the World Bank said.

The central bank said last month that the shilling’s depreciation was a seasonal dip.

“This is a common trend that usually normalizes in the second half of the year when earnings from tourism and exports pick-up,” the statement said. Magufuli’s administration has won praise since he was elected in 2015 for an anti-corruption drive and cutting wasteful spending. But opponents accuse the government of curbing dissent and limiting free speech.

Magufuli’s government has banned some newspapers, restricted opposition rallies and detained dozens of opposition politicians.

Four publications have been shut down in the last two years, the Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ) said.

“In suspending The Citizen newspaper, authorities have revealed how virulently opposed they are to debate about matters that should be of public concern - the state of the economy and democracy,” said Muthoki Mumo, CPJ’s Sub-Saharan Africa representative. (writing by Omar Mohammed; Editing by Katharine Houreld and Toby Chopra)

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