Fica bill delay ‘good news for criminals’

Johannesburg - Business Leadership South Africa (BLSA) says only criminals are benefiting from President Jacob Zuma’s delay in signing the Financial Intelligence Centre Act amendment bill into law.

BLSA deputy chairman Bonang Mohale told City Press that the amendment was key to South Africa’s fight against corruption and white-collar crime, and the country’s global standing as a fighter against money laundering and terrorism.

“The only people that have any reason whatsoever to be concerned about these amendments to an already existing act are criminals, thieves and terrorists,” Mohale said.

“At the end of the day this is a war between those who stand for good and those who choose to stand for evil.”

Some commentators have suggested the fight over the bill is the latest expression of the ongoing power struggle between the presidency and Treasury.

READ: SA banks becoming battleground in Zuma war - analysts

BLSA joins the Banking Association of SA, Business Unity SA and Treasury in urging the president to sign the bill, which has been fiercely opposed by the Black Business Council (BBC) and ex-government spokesperson Mzwanele Manyi’s Progressive Professionals Forum (PPF).

They argue that the amendment, which seeks to give the Financial Intelligence Centre the power to conduct warrantless searches of institutions designated as accountable, criminalises black business people.

Manyi has threatened to take the president to court should he sign the bill.

Mohale said this was a red herring as searches without warrants were already permitted by law through the Criminal Procedures Act and the amendment did not extend searches to individuals.

“We believe there is absolutely no legal, constitutional or policy reason it cannot be signed into law,” Mohale said.

“None of the objections raised are well founded in law or policy including that raised by the president, namely that section 45, article 1C of the amendment may be ... overbroad and may unjustifiably violate the right to privacy.”

READ: Heated public hearings into FIC Bill

Zuma sent the bill back to Parliament in December, six months after it landed on his desk, after the objections raised by the BBC and the PPF.

Parliament’s standing committee on finance considered the bill last week.

Mohale said the proposed changes would help strengthen oversight of the country’s financial sector, making it more competitive globally.

In any case, he added, the country shouldn’t be frittering away its hard-won reputation as a bulwark against money laundering and become a soft target for criminals.

Although he would not say what his organisation’s options would be if Zuma decided in the end not to sign the amendment, Mohale warned that the debacle was harming South Africa’s position on transparency and standing as a member of the Group of 20, the Financial Action Task Force on money laundering and the open government initiative which the country helped to start in 2011.

READ: What is the FIC Bill all about?

“The president will apply his mind and will be advised by the state lawyers and by National Treasury and we believe he will do only what is in the best interest of South Africans.

"The amendment highlights South Africa’s leadership role globally and in Africa and our commitment to the highest standards of governance,” he said, also noting that institutions such as the International Monetary Fund, the World Bank and the Organisation for Economic Cooperation and Development closely monitored the country’s efforts to fight terrorism and its funders.

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