The central bank will allow people to exchange old, mangled or ripped riel notes for new ones at its Phnom Penh headquarters or provincial branches during a first-of-its-kind campaign next week to coincide with the Pchum Ben holiday.
Dubbed “Loving Riel Banknotes,” the campaign will last from Monday to Friday at the 25 branches of the National Bank of Cambodia (NBC), according to a statement released this week.
“Pchum Ben is one of the biggest religious celebrations in Cambodia. We usually go to pagodas to offer money to monks,” Chea Serey, the NBC’s director-general, said in an email. “We want the money we give to be new and clean.”
“This is the time when new banknotes are most in demand,” she added. “Our campaign is planned to fall on that exact period.”
Ms. Serey said notes would be exchanged for new ones of the same value as long as they are not damaged beyond recognition and bank employees can confirm that they are genuine.
Although the exchange of old notes with new ones has been a regular practice with the NBC’s major customers—banks and microfinance institutions—this is the first time the bank has carried out a public campaign, she said.
“The difference is that this time, we’re opening it to everyone in the public,” she said. “We often receive complaints about old and dirty notes …and this is our response to them.”
Ms. Serey said people in rural areas who have trouble finding an NBC branch near them can pool their money together or ask microfinance institutions to facilitate the exchanges.
Huot Ieng Tong, president of the Cambodia Microfinance Association, said institutions would provide support to the NBC by promoting the campaign and allowing customers to exchange damaged notes with their tellers.
“Although there are no exact figures, I believe there are a lot of damaged riel banknotes in circulation,” Mr. Ieng Tong said. “Riel banknotes have been circulating in the economy for a remarkably long time.”
The NBC has made various efforts in recent years to promote the use of the riel over the U.S. dollar, which continues to be the dominant currency, giving the central bank little ability to use monetary policy as an economic tool.