Tag Archive | basa

Credit regulations to squeeze racketeers

Debt relief and credit under microscope

… sent to clients 22 Dec 2016…. Further powers for the National Credit Regulator to regulate against reckless lending have been reaffirmed as necessary and the subject of debt relief for needy persons considered.

This conclusion was the result of a series of hearings conducted by Parliament and criteria are to be developed for the application of debt relief measures and how this could be achieved are now being studied.

Such criteria could include target groups of debtors who would be eligible for the relief; the period in which the measure would apply; the type of debt that would be covered and how the measure could be implemented.

An earlier study, commissioned by the National Credit Regulator (NCR) some months ago, concluded that there was a need for the National Credit Act to make provision for the introduction of some form of national debt relief but the NCR decided to consult Parliament and to involve public input.

Growing debt bubble

Whilst reckless lending and irresponsible borrowing which led to the disastrous housing bubble in the US, Joanna Fubbs, as chairperson of the Portfolio Committee on Trade and Industry, acknowledged that the situation regarding any retail debt bubble is not as bad in SA.   Nevertheless, she said that for some time she has been concerned that the National Credit Amendment Act is not working in the best interests of vulnerable groups.

On the issue of debt relief, whether from reckless lending or not, it was agreed some time ago by the Committee that it was important for stakeholders to be consulted to establish a better picture.  A parliamentary select committee, chaired by MP Eddie Makue of the same Committee, was formed to investigate whether debt relief would be an acceptable policy for SA and to organise parliamentary hearings focusing on banking input and debt control aspects.

The brief

The Portfolio Committee also recommended to this subcommittee that there needed to be a better understanding between the excesses of lending, the plight of borrowers and a view established on regulations which should refrain from fostering any culture of not paying debt in the hope that it might be written off.

Meanwhile, it has been proposed by the Department of Trade and Industry (DTI) to extend the powers of the National Credit Regulator to conduct proactive investigations into reckless lending . They would also be asked to impose administrative fines and to empower the Minister to provide debt relief mechanisms through further regulations, yet to be drafted.

Also, NCR submitted that it had already laid out its own proposals to tighten up existing regulations and penalties for perpetrators of reckless lending which the Regulator was currently entitled to enforce under the Act but the views of the Regulator were to be sought on debt relief by Makue’s Committee.

DTI view

DTI has since confirmed to this Select Committee that it was their view was that the Minister of Trade and Industry, Rob Davies, should be given the power to prescribe debt relief measures, the nature of which must be carefully thought through . At the time, DTI acknowledged that banks and credit providers had to make their views known preferably in a series of hearings now conducted.

NCR view

National Credit Regulator, Nomsa Motshegare, has confirmed to the Select Committee that in their view some form of debt relief is necessary given the reasons of the country’s slow economic growth; retrenchments that were taking place; and rising unemployment figures.

In general, she said, these factors had already diminished household income and led to difficulty for consumers to repay loans.   The NCR had found, they said, that there was a willingness in general amongst banks to find ways to relieve the financial burden of indebted clients, many of them stating that they did this already, but there was considerable doubt on whether this should or could be backed up by any enforcement measures and regulations.

 The banks

In this regard, during further public hearings, Cas Coovadia of the Banking Association of SA (BASA) emphasised that legislated debt relief for all would have negative consequences since this was far too prescriptive. He  called for “a customised debt relief approach that would suite various portfolios” as a better principle to follow.

At the outset of the discussions, Coovadia stated that BASA did not support the principle of debt forgiveness as an objective.  One of the banking system’s foundation principles, he said, was the need to efficiently and legally lend money to borrowers and to collect repayments from borrowers to settle the loans.

He told parliamentarians. “A confluence of pricing, regardless of individual consumer risk, will arise at a portfolio level to offset the inability to price for the risk.    This will mean that consumers who have a good repayment history will no longer be rewarded for such behaviour when they apply for further credit.”

He warned that blanket debt forgiveness would accelerate irresponsible borrowing and said all banks offered means to repay and gauged the circumstances when lending.   Any failure to perform on this principle would have severe consequences for the industry and economy; would increase risk to depositors/savers; would impose a cost on society; and would limit credit providers’ ability to extend credit, he said.

Making a plan

Nedbank said that the option of rehabilitation was always a preferred course rather than hard legal collections and the bank had recently adopted a philosophy in general banking terms that to become proactive in terms of debt relief solutions was the far better solution for those who had over-extended themselves.

They said the situation between credit provider and consumers should remain “mutually beneficial”, which principle bore in mind that the economy of the country was less affected.   Nedbank confirmed that a satisfactory low, in their view, of 4.6% of their clients could be classified as technically in total default without the any possibility of rescue, as at the end of 2015.

Too prescriptive

Individual banks, such as Standard Bank, Absa, First Rand, Capitec and African Bank generally supported BASA’s view that prescriptive laws or regulations regarding lending, collection and debt relief would remove the principle of case by case treatment which in turn, they said, would probably inhibit loans being granted or drive up their cost

Debt and labour

Chamber of Mines was blunter and took the view that employee over-indebtedness was a major problem in labour relations and “fed into unrealistic wage demand” scenarios.  Indebtedness, they said, was one of the major catalysts in recent mining unrest.

They were clear that education on family accounts and the implications of over borrowing had to be stepped up, rather than complicated prescriptive measures on relief that would favour one and not the other.  More important they said was that loan sharks should brought under control and whose malpractices were rife amongst the mine working community.

Ms Sue Fritz, speaking for the Chamber, said that any form of debt relief provisions must consider the danger of undermining the basic principle that with the ability to borrow came the understanding such debt had to be repaid or quality lending would cease and debt might increase.

Cosatu view

Cosatu’s Matthew Parks urged that some form of debt relief be provided to a defined base of categories, such as retrenched workers; those only on social grants; the poor; working-class and middle-class students with student loans and borrowers who had paid off a large part of a loan but fallen on hard times. He also appealed to parliamentarians that there was a need to crack down on loan sharks, formal and informal.

Paul Slot, speaking as president of the Debt Counsellors Association, said some form of debt relief was necessary to counter the current high level of household debt, noting that according to the association, 54% of those in financial trouble simply applied for more debt to extricate themselves.

Conclusions in process

The Select Committee has now made a call upon on the National Credit Regulator to tighten regulations further on loan sharks and the registration process.  Chairperson Eddie Makue has now reported back on the hearings to the Portfolio Committee but has noted in Parliament that he was deeply concerned that a large amount of vulnerable people remain exposed to unregulated credit and can become victims purely because of greed alone on the part of the lender.

On reckless lending, it was noted that often ridiculously high repayments from the poor were a weapon used to gain control of assets.    Makue said, “The NCR has to protect poor South Africans against such lending by unregistered and immoral micro-lenders.   In most rural and semi-urban areas people maintain their existence through borrowing and the interest they sometimes get charged is shocking, and interest rates should be capped by law”, Makue said.

State debt relief and debt relief regulations

The “jury is still out” therefore for 2016 on the issue of DTI tabling a Bill and the subject of debt relief generally.

Parliament closed 7 December and will resume this debate early in 2017

 Previous articles on category subject

National Credit Act Bill aims to help consumers – ParlyReport

Treasury proposals on debt control approved – ParlyReportSA

National Credit Amendment Bill changes – ParlyReportSA

 

Posted in Finance, economic, LinkedIn, Special Recent Posts, Trade & Industry0 Comments

FICA Bill : Hearings on legal point

President Zuma vs Parliament on FICA Bill

…..editorial……The convoluted thinking that is taking place in South Africa to avoid the consequences of the law has once again become evident in the ongoing battle between the Presidency and the Standing Committee on Finance with the return  of the Financial Intelligence Centre Amendment (FICA) Bill  by the President to Parliament and therefore unsigned into law.

Worried by warrants

The President claims that for representatives of the Financial Intelligence Centre (FIC) to visit business premises and even homes under special circumstances without a search warrant and in cases where obtaining a warrant would defeat the purpose of the search, may be unconstitutional.   FIC, meanwhile, has confirmed in Parliament that between the years 2011 and 2016, 930 warrantless searches with the consent of those searched had been carried out by its inspectors.

Rare happening


The move
by the President, after five months of inaction, has now forced Parliament to seek the opinion of senior counsel to reinforce their views that warrantless searches are indeed acceptable in terms of the Constitution.   The FICA Bill was originally recommended for signature into law and sent to the President by no lesser body than the National Assembly, then concurred to by the National Council of Provinces, both on the advice of Parliament’s own legal counsel on constitutional issues.   This is normal procedure with every piece of legislation.


This reason for further delay on the President’s part must have raised a few eyebrows at the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD) centre in Paris.     As those in financial circles are aware, the Bill was tabled by the Minister of Finance with the objective of not only aligning South Africa’s banking and financial institutions with global financial advances but to counter growing and localised corruption and money laundering.

Hurry up and wait

This august body, the OECD, much maligned by the Minister of Mineral Resources in tandem with his opinions on the SA banking system, is currently awaiting South Africa’s confirmation that it will comply with the latest round of requests for compliance with the fourteen rules, now amended, to counter international financial terrorism and extend the OECD’s ability to combat international money crime.

Warrantless searches are allowed in most major countries where compliance with OECD conditions are sought but in the same countries, as has been worded in the FIC Bill, the circumstances to allow this only in cases of suspected money laundering are specifically worded and this includes cases where the application for a warrant or a delay in obtaining a warrant would remove the element of surprise.

Treasury wanted immediacy

The request for South Africa to conform is more specific in terms of the requirements of the Financial Intelligence Task Force (FATF), better known by banks as the criminal investigation department of OECD.    A date for compliance was set by them in February 2017 and agreed to by South Africa. The banking sector is ready to implement the new rules both in staffing terms and with systems and procedures waiting. Minister Pravin Gordhan and some senior ANC party members have been vocal with their suspicions for the delay.

Mystery motives

In what appears to be almost Machiavellian in political terms, the President, with the knowledge that he must have that Parliament was about to close for business, might, according to some MPs, have lodged his further objections to the Bill in the hope that further support for his views could be garnered from subsequent hearings, submissions and more debate.

Chair of the Standing Committee on Finance, Yunus Carrim, countered the President’s unexpected move by cancelling urgent meetings on the Insurance Bill, scheduled for debate and hearings on the last two days of parliamentary business, and called for an urgent meeting of his Committee.  

Advocate Frank Jenkins, Parliament’s legal adviser, was asked to attend and give opinion, together with manager of FIC, Pieter Smit.   Also attending was the Deputy Minister of Finance, Mcebisi Jonas and National Treasury deputy DG responsible for FIC matters, Ismail Momoniat.

Carrim firm on subject

Adv. Jenkins confirmed the sections of the Constitution provided for a Bill to be returned but only once and on specific issues.  He saw the President’s action as unusual in that a Bill, worked on for two years with every clause scrutinized and with input from constitutional experts, could be returned at such a late stage with so much time having elapsed during which an objection could have been easily submitted.

He then explained to MPs how the Constitution does indeed allow for warrantless searches in terms of the Constitution’s specific wording on the subject matter. He listed six precedents of Bills passed into law recently where warrantless searches are allowed in certain prescribed circumstances in terms of the Constitution.   He said this was not a complicated issue at law in view of precedent.

No good choices

Chair Carrim said he had no choice but to treat the FATF issue as the least worst of bad scenarios and he was forced to apply parliamentary rules to the issue in order that the President’s move could be countered with indisputable legal fact and by applying parliamentary rules objectively and strictly. He wanted to observe protocol so that the matter could become “de-politicised”.  

He said the media had called him “brave” to stand in the way of the President’s obvious wish.   This was not the case, he said, but just a matter of following the rules and respecting the fact that Parliament was the final arbiter in such matters since Parliament represented each and every citizen of South Africa.

The response

The rule, Adv. Jenkins explained to the Committee, was that should a Bill be returned to Parliament by the President, having been beforehand approved by the House on every issue in the Bill, then only the specific point, i.e. warrantless searches, could be discussed and debated subsequently and altered if seen fit. This was stated in the Constitution.   The Bill could then be returned to the President with Parliament’s view on the subject matter alone.

He said that should the Committee decide that the President’s view was a baseless argument then they could probably avoid the President referring the matter to the Constitutional Court with further long delays by supplying advice from counsel.  Chair Carrim agreed with this suggestion and with Committee approval across all parties the call for legal submissions in the form of submissions in the New Year and the matter down for hearings and debate in Parliament after it opens in February/March 2017.

Hands off the Bill

Parliament could then return the Bill to the President, Carrim explained, with full legal constitutional opinion and throughout the whole process, only the issue at hand, i.e. warrantless searches, would be allowed for debate.   No other substantive issues could be raised, debated or voted upon as the Bill had been approved by Parliament, Carrim said, and only one issue was under scrutiny.

He said, this would be clearly advertised when calling for submissions and the Speaker asked to observe the rule in any subsequent National Assembly debates.  Any other comments and observations would be regarded as irrelevant.  As far as the OECD was concerned, this was a risk that Treasury would have to handle in their meetings with OECD but this route, Yunus Carrim felt, was the better option.

Believe it or not

For the five months that President Jacob Zuma has been refusing to sign the Bill into law
and refusing to give any reason other than finding the time to “apply his mind to the issue”, any amount of publicity on the need for speed must have landed up on the President’s desk
, even if  just legal advice on the subject instructed by the President.   Lying to Parliament has now become a presidential practice, cartoonists Jonathan Shapiro, Neale Blandan and Jeremy Nell having turned President Zuma’s relationship with Parliament into an art form. 

The “G” factor

As far back as 2009, the OECD published a list of countries divided into three parts, all depending on how or whether they complied to “internationally agreed tax standards”, in select jurisdictions, tax havens or other financial centres of interest and whether they had implemented appropriate legislation in line with OECD requests.   

The procedures are now part of standard international banking procedure but now relate specially to identifying money movements of “prominent persons” and where money laundering seems possibly to be evident.

Whether the President, as the most elevated and “prominent person” in the country, might be trying to protect himself or other “prominent persons” including friends and associates alike against investigation into money movements is not, however, the main issue.

All suffer

The far more serious issue is that the President’s seeming neglect in responding for months has exposed the country’s banking and financial systems to risk.  This is quite outrageous.  The President may or may not have a good argument that it is constitutionally inviolate for the FIC to search without a warrant and possibly with or without warning beforehand  but it seems a stretch of the imagination, given his track record, that he is morally indignant.

Parliament has now issued a gazette calling for comment with the following proviso: “All submissions must therefore only deal with the constitutionality of section 45B (1C) dealing with warrantless searches in clause 32 of the Bill.     As the hearings are on the constitutionality of warrantless searches, those making submissions are requested to provide legal opinions for their arguments if possible.  No consideration can be given to submissions dealing with any other provisions of the Bill.”

Hearings are promised as well in mid-March 2017 for  generalised input on the legislation, part of Chair Yunus Carrim’s call for Parliament to investigate “transformation in the financial sector.” 

 

FIC Bill hold up goes to roots of corruption – ParlyReportSA

Red tape worries with FIC Bill – ParlyReportSA

Madonsela: state capture and corruption linked – ParlyReportSA

 

Posted in Cabinet,Presidential, Finance, economic, Justice, constitutional, LinkedIn, Special Recent Posts, Trade & Industry0 Comments

Parliament, ConCourt and Business

...editorial…

Parliament wins with ConCourt judgement…

Political comment on recent and fluid events involving Parliament and ConCourt are beyond the brief of ParlyReportConcourt other than perhaps the effect on Parliament as an institution capable of assisting business and industry. Nevertheless, these following words rang out from eleven of our judicial elders from the precincts of the highest court in the land when making their recent unanimous judgement…….

“Certain values in the Constitution have been designated as foundational to our democracy. This in turn means that as pillar-stones of this democracy, they must be observed scrupulously. If these values are not observed and their precepts not carried out conscientiously, we have a recipe for a constitutional crisis of great magnitude. In a State predicated on a desire to maintain the rule of law, it is imperative that one and all should be driven by a moral obligation to ensure the continued survival of our democracy.”

Parliament drawn in

national assemblyGiven those precepts and the fact the highest court in our land took it upon itself to chastise the Speaker of House, ANC’s Baleka Mbete, and the workings of the National Assembly in that there was a lack of respect by the Secretary for Parliament for the Public Protector’s report on the Nkandla issue.The judgement spoke volumes on the lack of Cabinet’s understanding of the principle of separation of powers and focused on its disrespect for Parliament.

But ParlyReport rarely attends the National Assembly (NA) since that it is a place where a politicized debate takes place and the NA merely “dots the i’s” on legislation and registers its vote – legislation that has already been worked on by the parliamentary portfolio and select committees, i.e. the engine room of Parliament.

Most of this “engine room” process has only been slightly compromised by the ConCourt judgement.

ParlyReport’s mandate also is to watch and observe government departments as they spell out their targets, policies and decision-making on major issues affecting business and industry as they report to their relevant committees in terms of oversight. Some of these committee debates are intelligent contributions in the national interest, others less so. Here the system with government departments reporting to Parliament is even less compromised by the ConCourt judgement.

Political debate

The National Assembly, however, is where the political, ideological and debate on party lines takesEFF 2 place, assumedly in a democratic manner but sadly turned into a circus quite often by the EFF. However, one should remember that the judgement of ConCourt was as a result of a decision on the matter brought by the very same Economic Freedom Fighters vs Speaker of the National Assembly and Others and Democratic Alliance vs Speaker of the National Assembly and Others.

In other words, some of the people have spoken but not all of the people. At National Assembly level the ANC closed ranks on the impeachment motion as the nation knows and which was their democratic right whatever the Opposition members might have thought and said. The sight of the Speaker being told to stand down and for the Deputy Speaker take over was sad to see but for the rest, it was democracy in process.

Throughout, the final debate, the level of insults was high but this could be expected on an impeachment motion but Parliamentary procedure was observed by all; the bells rang for ajournment and consideration; the votes counted; the results confirmed on the motion to impeach and all other outstanding motions called for, before closing.

speaker UKIt was just noisier than PMQ in the British Houses of Parliament, that’s all.

In the end it may be said that the Constitution was the winner. The Parliamentary process was indeed observed after ConCourt had noted that the subject matter of the charges had resulted an abuse of Parliament in a number of ways. Now the political process takes over and however dirty it may seem at times in National Assembly debate, this is indeed democracy.

Where it goes wrong

It is unfortunate that what was not foreseen by the authors of an otherwise an excellent Constitution (or perhaps foreseen but could not be avoided) is the fact that South African MPs get their jobs and receive their pensions, perks and housing on a party list system which is very much adjustable, we have learnt, not only by parliamentary performance and hearing the voice of the Party whip but by other elements outside of Parliament.

In the case of the ANC Alliance, who are the majority by far in both Houses, obviously this leads tolithuli house patronage by those who run the party list at Luthuli House. It is a fact which cannot be avoided. One could say the same for the DA, the EFF and any smaller party that patronage must apply when MPs are not answerable, as is the case in South Africa, to a particular constituency of citizens.

In the case of South Africa, this leaves national policy and leadership very much in the hands of Luthuli House, particularly because Jacob Zuma is not only President of the country but, as is ANC practice, he is also the elected leader of the ANC. It was at this point the system failed and but not because of parliamentary failure.

Puppet on a string

What ConCourt found therefore was not only that President Zuma was guilty of certain charges and had to take remedial action but there had been a determined ANC attempt, with considerable success, to run the National Assembly from Luthuli House. It was on the Nkandla issue that ANC MP and party whip, Stone Sizani, probably realized that things had gone too far and that he was probably implicated.

Mbete,Baleka sworninThe eleven judges unanimously singled out the current incumbent of the position of Speaker of the House, Baleka Mbete, as also being tangled in the web of patronage. She has denied this but has conceded the “matter could have been better handled”. In fact, later she handled matters a lot worse in the initial moments of the motion on impeachment even agreed to by the ANC who obviously saw that she should have recused herself.

Outside the ring – a little

But as far as business and industry is concerned, our institutions are a little more insulated from such shenanigans.

Whilst all committees are indeed run by ANC Alliance chairpersons (the Standing Committee on Finance was originally by tradition chaired by the majority opposition party but now changed by the ANC) public hearings on legislation are encouraged. The public may attend any meeting government oversight hearings, which ParlyReport does – as well as members of the media, and all members of the public can attend any meeting with the exception of the Security and Intelligence Committee debates.

Good, healthy debate

In our ParlyReport this fortnight, we report on the very sensible suggestions of the Bankingbasa logo 2 Association of South Africa (BASA) made to the Standing Committee on Finance on the Financial Intelligence Centre Bill, tabled by the Minister of Finance. These suggestions were not only heard but acted upon.

In fact, BASA with other financial institutions were invited to subsequent debates under committee Chairperson Yunus Carrim (SACP) and with National Treasury, under the guidance of Ismail Momoniat, a Bill was crafted that was much more acceptable to all.

In some cases, changes called for were justified successfully by Treasury not to be in the national interest in terms of the international call for compliance against money laundering but in other cases calls for less red tape and overwhelming paper work heeded and requests for better definitions acknowledged. For example, the list of “prominent persons”, i.e. those who might be involved in “suspicious transactions”, is to be compiled by Treasury itself and not left to the intuition of financial institutions and the private sector, all suggested by BASA and other financial institutions and bodies.

Separation of powers still there

In conclusion then, it will take the continued support of business with submissions and voicing opinion at hearings at committee level to keep the playing fields level and to point out what is best for South Africa’s economic interests by influencing debate at this level. Business has rarely expressed its voice in the National Assembly since this is not the forum for such unless a summons to appear is made.

parliament 6As for the future of the National Assembly itself there is very little anybody can do until the majority party gets its moral compass adjusted in terms of its relationship with this important component of Parliament, the issues ahead being purely political ones.

The Constitution, Parliament and the Public Protector’s office have survived and the ordinary democratic process of citizen politics now holds sway, hence the current issue ahead of business and industry being described by Standard and Poor as “political noise”.

 

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