Availability of Hard Currency in Ghana and Vietnam

Easy access to hard currency is essential for facilitating foreign trade and is useful in certain other circumstances for both local people and expatriates, however in both Ghana and Vietnam, this facility was unavailable for several decades. In Ghana in the 1970s, foreign exchange was available only to those holding an import licence, and the issue of these scarce documents was restricted to friends of the issuer and those prepared to pay a substantial premium. This situation continued until the intervention of the IMF in 1983 when the cedi was floated, and over the next decade or so, a global level of convertibility was achieved. Similar progress was made in Vietnam, starting in 1985, but the process is still ongoing and not all the gains have been sustained.

In the 1970s, changing Ghanaian cedis into any other currency without an import licence was legally impossible. The black market flourished, and by 1982 the dollar exchange rate for the cedi had reached 120 while the official rate remained unchanged since 1978 at 2.8 cedis to the dollar. Thus the few that gained an import licence saw the value of their investment multiplied almost 43 times. There was no way that hard currencies could be drawn in Ghana from a foreign bank account, so cash could only be carried in from outside or bought on the black market. Hard currencies: dollars or pounds sterling, could be changed into cedis at the official exchange rate but to do so involved a very substantial loss.

In 1983 with the floating of the cedi, there began a slow process of normalisation. In the early 1990s it became possible to open foreign exchange accounts with local banks, designated in dollars or pounds. At about the same time, the first cash dispensers appeared in the major towns and it became possible to draw local currency from local or overseas bank accounts. In 1997, a similar facility was found at cash dispensers in Vietnam, and additionally, it was possible to draw US dollars cash from overseas accounts up to a maximum of $400 a day. By 2014, however, this facility had been withdrawn.

People with cedi bank accounts in Ghana can make transfers overseas into foreign currency accounts for any purpose: business or personal. Holders of dong bank accounts in Vietnam do not enjoy this facility although special arrangements can be made for medical or educational purposes. It is also possible for these accounts to receive transfers from foreign bank accounts. Importing is controlled by something like the old import licence system in Ghana although the amount of foreign exchange available is far greater and licences are more plentiful. Ghana now has a financial system adapted to the needs of the global free market but for Vietnam, achieving this goal is still a work-in-progress.

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