Coins get the thumbs down from consumers

PUBLISHED : Monday, 28 February, 2005, 12:00am
UPDATED : Monday, 28 February, 2005, 12:00am

At Nguyen Thanh Hang's souvenir stall in Hanoi, you can buy antique coins - but you'll have to use paper bills to pay for them.

Ms Hang, like most Vietnamese, has no use for the new coins reintroduced by the state about 18 months ago after nearly 20 years of a paper-only currency.

This has set the stage for a war of attrition between the State Bank of Vietnam, which last month announced it would increase the distribution of coins, and a public that considers them cumbersome, difficult to tell apart, and even ugly.

'At first, we were very eager to welcome their coming back because we found them sort of unusual and attractive,' said Ms Hang. 'Now we find out that they turn black pretty fast. Ordinary people won't accept them.'

Ms Hang said Vietnamese simply were not accustomed to using coins after two decades without them.

Her wares include replicas of ancient Chinese coins with holes in the middle, held together by a string. Earlier Vietnamese coins were similar, and Ms Hang said locals find the new, solid variety easy to lose. That is no small matter when the largest coin denomination equals about half a day's income for millions of earners.

'Imagine if you're a vegetable seller earning 10,000 dong (about $5) a day and you lose your payments,' Ms Hang said. 'What a tragedy.'

There are virtually no coin-operated devices such as vending machines, pay phones or parking meters in Vietnam, further limiting the coins' usefulness.

'I can't use them anywhere, so I don't accept them,' said Nguyen Thi Thu, another Hanoi shopkeeper.

But the State Bank of Vietnam is determined to follow the international trend of increasing the use of coins, chiefly on grounds their durability makes them more cost-efficient.