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'Red money' bias - Most Jamaicans shun coins, say they’re useless

BY SHAMILLE SCOTT Business Reporter
Friday, July 13, 2012

WHAT can be bought for under a dollar in Jamaican stores? Pretty much nothing.

"Under a dollar, you mean US dollar?" asked the supervisor of Azan's Supercentre on Constant Spring Road. After a series of chuckles, she said the cheapest item for sale in the store was a pencil sharpener, priced at J$10.

The Jamaican dollar denomination values of one, five, 10 and 20 are coins in circulation, but the one, 10 and 25-cents coins, or 'red money', are considered valueless by some people.

"They don't make any sense," said Denise Barr, a self-employed St Andrew resident. Barr believes the coins are a waste, adding that they cannot even purchase a sweet.

She was right. The cheapest item in the Woolworth Store in the Mall Plaza, St Andrew, was a pay-cheque envelope, priced at $2.40 and the cheapest sweet cost $5.85.

A fruit vendor, Dwight Stone, believes that the coins should be withdrawn, claiming he has saved them and has been unsuccessful in changing them into notes.

"I took a 10 pound bag of coins to the bank but they gave me a hard time," he said.

The Bank of Jamaica (BOJ) said the coins are here to stay.

Last year, the BOJ issued 6.8 million pieces of the 25-cent coin, valued at $1.7 million and 8.1 million pieces of the 10 cent coin, valued at $810,000. The central bank, however, would not reveal what it cost to obtain them. The coins are produced by the Royal Mint in the United Kingdom.

Canada, Australia and New Zealand have already stopped using the penny — their one cent coin made of copper.

Here, the 'red money' is hardly reused, said Roxanne Kiburn a cashier at Brooklyn Supermarket on Hope Road in Kingston. She said customers are sometimes annoyed when the coins are given as change, but there are still a few who use them.

There have even been instances when customers have thrown the coins at her.

Both the $0.10 and $0.25 coins are round and made of zinc with a copper-plated steel, but one weighs more and carries the portrait of different national heroes — the 10-cent coin bears the image of Paul Bogle and the 25-cents coin has Marcus Garvey's image.

Impatience is one of the reasons consumers avoid using the coins.

"People don't have time to search and tell the difference between $0.25 and the $0.10," said Hope Blake, a supervisor at Mall Pharmacy in St Andrew.

The coins are legal tender and the BOJ has an obligation to issue them. They are required to facilitate commerce. The Jamaican dollar is comprised of 100 cents, hence persons spending a proportion of a dollar (eg. $0.86) must be able to receive exact change, the BOJ said.

Stores often try to round off the purchase prices listed on their goods to the nearest dollar, but the pesky fraction typically pops up after General Consumption Tax is computed.

Invariably, cents that make up the change from purchases are often abandoned at cashier counters.

Blake said the custom at the pharmacy at which she works is to place coins left behind in a jar, which is then passed on to charity.

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