By BUUMBA CHIMBULU
TECHNOLOGY-DRIVEN policies being implemented by members states of the Common Market for Eastern and Southern Africa (COMESA) such as Zambia will increase levels of financial inclusion in the region.
This will therefore have a positive impact on the livelihoods of Micro Small and Medium Enterprises (MSMEs) and uplift economies out the current Covid-19, according to the Bank of Zambia Governor, Christopher Mvunga.
Mr Mvunga stressed that financial inclusion mattered most for central banks as it had implications on monetary and financial stability.
In this regard, the Governor predicted an increased financial inclusion due to policy priority and emergence of technology which was reducing transaction costs, thereby increasing MSMEs in the COMESA region.
“Mobile and digital technologies provided by FinTechs and Telcos re increasing, allowing more people to have access to digital financial services, who would otherwise be excluded from the traditional banking system,” he said yesterday at the 2nd Digital Financial Inclusion Public Private Dialogue.
Mr Mvunga stressed that implementation of the COMESA model common payment policy for MSMEs would largely depend on close collaboration between public and private sectors.
He said the successful development and roll out of the COMESA digital retail payment platform required a clear and policy framework, among others.
The COMESA Business Council (CBC) has engaged with various stakeholders to consider the Model Digital Common Payments Policy Framework for MSMEs in the region. CBC Board Chairperson, Marday Venkatasamy, said digital financial inclusion and opening affordable, cross border transactions through instruments such as mobile money would guarantee inclusion of MSMEs into the commercial space that was driving economies. Mr Venkatasamy said despite challenges posed by Covid-19, over 90 percent of MSMEs still planned to maintain or expand their businesses over the next six to 18 months.
He acknowledged that over 90 percent of MSMEs across sub-Saharan Africa are suffering harsh economic impacts due to the Covid-19.
“Due to the adverse effects that Covid-19 has had in all aspects of our lives, we recognise more than ever, the critical importance of digital financial inclusion to empowering and transforming the lives of all people, especially the poor.
“Its role in improving national and regional financial stability and integrity; and its essential contribution to strong and inclusive growth in COMESA, and more broadly in Africa,” he said.
COMESA Assistant Secretary General, Kipyago Cheluget, stated that the absence of an overarching regional policy framework to support digital retail payments created uncertainty and undermines the case for decisive action and investment.
“As such, developing the regional policy and regulatory framework is a priority for COMESA member states,” Dr Cheluget said.
He said regional digital payments solutions for MSMEs needed good regulatory enabling environment that catered for an inclusive, multi-stakeholder, multi-sectoral and hybrid regulatory requirements for smooth implementation.
Bankers Association of Zambia (BAZ) Chairperson, Herman Kasekende, said the country’s financial services industry was poised for a digital revolution.
Mr Kasekende said from e-payments in banks to mobile network operators, the recent expansion of mobile financial services was high and accelerating.
“The number of active customers has grown from 4,345,858 to 6, 522, 399,” he stated.
Mr Kasekende also observed that there were also cybersecurity concerns for regional digital common retail payments platform.
“It is for this reason that there is need for harmonised cybersecurity policy framework for digital financial services, including choice of appropriate technology for cybersecurity,” he said.
Mr Kasekende observed the need for member states to have harmonised electronic transactions acts to enable consistent verification and authentication of legitimate users of the digital platform.