FICA Bill could meet new task force deadline

OECD money task force waiting for SA  

….sent to clients Feb 7…. Chairperson of the Standing Committee on Finance, Yunus Carrim, made it quite clear in terms of parliamentary rules that further debate on the FICA Bill aligning SA to global money laundering task force requirements are confined to the President’s reservations about the Bill’s constitutionality on the issue of warrantless searches. Nothing else was to be debated or considered despite attempts, he said.

After a “suspicious delay”, to quote the Democratic Alliance, of over five months during which the President unexpectedly failed to sign the Bill into law, it was suddenly returned to Parliament with the query a few days before closure for the Christmas recess.

Playing for time

It is suspected that the President’s office might have been making a pitch for more debating time on the Bill in 2017 and to allow the Bill to be re-scrutinised thereby causing further delay or even allowing for an ANC motion to reject the Bill.  This is according to one Opposition member on the Committee.

Following this, in a meeting hastily convened before Parliament closed, parliamentary orders were changed and Chair Carrim re-scheduled the Committee’s last meeting which was to be held on the Insurance Bill.  He instead scheduled an urgent meeting to debate the President’s move, calling for both legal opinion from the State Law Advisor and the attendance of National Treasury to learn of implications caused by the delay.

Next move

As of the result of this last-minute meeting, Parliament and Carrim have to some extent countered what seemed the purposeful delaying tactic.    The Committee agreed to call for written submissions only, preferably containing legal opinion, on only the constitutionality of Clause 32, section 45B (1C) on warrantless searches, saying only such will be allowed and no generalised observations on any other clauses or the rationale behind the Bill will be heard.

In the meeting, MPs expressed anger at the waste of public money and even Chair Carrim expressed his frustration of having to go back to the drawing board on a Bill that had already been passed. “I am getting too old for these kind of games”, he said.

Carrim concluded, “This Bill was approved by Parliament in its entirety and by a majority vote after many months of debate. Legal opinion was called for on many aspects and its signature into law was urgently required to meet international deadlines. In terms of the Joint Parliamentary Rules therefore, only the one aspect that the President has queried could be considered and the Bill was to be returned with the opinion of this Committeeafter a vote in the NA.

Advice sought

It was agreed by the Committee that legal counsel specifically would be sought on the constitutional aspects raised and this would be returned together with the Bill as it stood for signature in an attempt to convince the President not to refer the matter to the Constitutional Court and further delay implementation of a law approved by Parliament.

Adv. Jenkins, State Law Advisor, told Yunus Carrim that he could see no grounds for the contention that the circumstances of warrantless searches were not properly circumscribed in the Bill and were thus legal. It was established that FICA had already conducted some 380 warrantless searches.

Adv. Jenkins pointed out that in terms of the Constitution and Parliamentary rules the President could only return a Bill once to Parliament, whatever the specific subject or subjects.  Thus, this was the only issue that should be debated and considered by Parliament.

It would also be preferable, he said, to return also legal opinion based on supporting input from public hearings, but he advised that once again this should be confined to the subject matter, i.e. warrantless searches.

Country exposed

Meanwhile, President Zuma’s obviously purposeful delays have exposed South Africa to further detrimental opinion from the Financial Action Task Force (FATF) who are holding a plenary meeting of the OECD in Paris in February, Treasury deputy director-general Ismail Momoniat told Chair Yunus Carrim.

South Africa could well be slapped with a warning letter or even a fine at taxpayer’s expense for failing to sign into law amendments to the Financial Intelligence Centre Act, he said, and added that this would not be helpful at the time of a Standard and Poor financial rating exercise to be carried out in the New Year.

Local banks at risk

Even a mild rebuke from the Task Force could have significant consequences for SA, DG Momoniat said, since it would raise concern among foreign regulators and banks about SA’s commitment to vigilant financial regulation.     This in turn would have a ripple effect throughout the economy since correspondent relationships between the global network of banks are vital to effect payment for South Africa exports and imports.

Carrim responded that of the two bad options resulting from the President’s actions, the least damaging was to ignore OEDC opinion for the moment, take proper legal counsel on the issue and await the opening of a new session in late January/early February 2017 for a water-tight case to go back to the President’s office. DG Momoniat acknowledged that Treasury noted the course that was being adopted.

Jeremy Gauntlett S.C. was to be contacted and the question of warrantless searches be considered by him, the wording revised if necessary according to counsel given and the Bill returned to the National Assembly for adoption based on any revisions, if made.

Rules for submissions

The final position was therefore that all submissions to Parliament had to only deal with the constitutionality of section 45B (1C) dealing with warrantless searches in clause 32 of the Bill and those making submissions were requested to provide legal opinions for their arguments .

It was suspected that Black Business Forum and other groupings would make a determined effort widen the scope of the deliberations.

Any submissions on other provisions of the Bill, not the subject of the hearings, had to be made separately in more public hearings to be held on “Progress on Transformation of the Financial Sector”, tentatively set for 14 March 2017. Those additional hearings will be advertised separately, said Carrim’s parliamentary notice when published.

Previous articles on category subject

FICA Bill : Hearings on legal point – ParlyReportSA

FIC Bill hold up goes to roots of corruption – ParlyReportSA

Red tape worries with FIC Bill – ParlyReportSA

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