Cabinet not looking to probe banks - Presidency

Cape Town - The Presidency has distanced itself and Cabinet from a call by Mineral Resources Minister Mosebenzi Zwane to set up a judicial inquiry into the banking sector.

Zwane, who chaired an inter-ministerial committee set up by Cabinet to probe why South Africa’s banks blacklisted Gupta-owned businesses, said in a statement that a judicial inquiry be considered to look into:

- the current mandates of the Banking Tribunal and the Banking Ombudsman,
- consider the current Financial Intelligence Centre Act (Fica) and the Prevention of Combating of Corrupt Activities Act in relation to the banks' conduct, and
- re-consider South Africa’s clearing bank provisions to allow for new banking licences to be issued.
- look into the establishment of a state bank of South Africa with the possible corporatisation of the Post Bank being considered as an option.

The announcement by Zwane was feared to cause further market turmoil, currency weakness and make a sovereign ratings downgrade.

However, the Presidency said on Friday that Zwane's remarks were issued in his personal capacity and not on behalf of the task team or Cabinet.

"Minister Zwane is a member of the task team. He does not speak on behalf of Cabinet and the contents of his statement do not reflect the position or views of Cabinet," the Presidency spokesperson Bongani Ngqulunga said.  

"The unfortunate contents of the statement and the inconvenience and confusion caused by the issuing thereof, are deeply regretted."

The Presidency also moved to quell fears of the public and investors.
"The Presidency wishes to assure the public, the banking sector as well as domestic and international investors of Government’s unwavering commitment to the letter and spirit of the country’s Constitution as well as in the sound fiscal and economic fundamentals that underpin our economy."

Zwane said evidence presented to the inter-ministerial committee “indicated that all of the actions taken by the banks and financial institutions were as a result of innuendo and potentially reckless media statements, and as a South African company, Oakbay had very little recourse to the law”.

“Evidence presented to the IMC (inter-ministerial committee) suggested that all of South Africa’s economic power vests in the hands of very specific institutions, institutions who have shown that their ability to act unilaterally is within their mandate and is protected,” Zwane said in a statement released late on Thursday night.

“These institutions are owned by private shareholders and report to National Treasury who in turn do not need to act on information provided to it.”

What the banks said

Nedbank spokesperson Esme Arendse told Fin24 on Friday that “should any official investigation be set up, Nedbank would participate in a constructive and transparent manner”.  

An Absa spokesperson told Fin24 that the bank “cannot comment as the said judicial inquiry has neither been set up nor its terms of reference announced”.

Standard Bank spokesperson Ross Linstrom told Fin24 on Friday: “We have no comment.”

Cas Coovadia, managing director of the Banking Association South Africa, told Fin24 on Friday that they "will await a response from the president to the recommendations before considering this release".

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