FULL STATEMENT: Call to probe banks

This is the full statement issued by Minister of Minerals Resources Mosebenzi Zwane on September 2 indicating that a Cabinet committee called for a judicial review to consider creating a state bank and to probe the mandates of banking oversight bodies after the nation’s four biggest lenders said they would stop doing business with the Gupta family. The Presidency has since distanced itself and Cabinet from the recommendations below.

On 13 April 2016, Cabinet established an Inter-Ministerial Committee (IMC) to consider allegations that certain banks and other financial institutions acted unilaterally and allegedly in collusion, when they closed bank accounts and/or terminated contractual relationships with Oakbay Investments. The IMC was chaired by myself as the Minister of Mineral Resources.

The situation warranted close scrutiny by Government because of the impact that the actions would have, not only on job losses for 7 500 South Africans but also the impact that it would have on investor confidence.

The IMC conducted a number of meetings with various banks, financial institutions and insurance companies as well as with representatives of Oakbay Investments. Although the Minister of Finance was a member of the constituted IMC, he did not participate in its meetings.

A Report of recommendations was tabled at Cabinet. After discussion of the Report, Cabinet has now resolved as follows:

a. To recommend to the President that given the nature of the allegations and the responses received, that the President consider establishing a Judicial Enquiry in terms of section 84(2)(f) of the Constitution;

b. To consider the current mandates of the Banking Tribunal and the Banking Ombudsman. Evidence presented to the IMC 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.

Looking into these mandates and strengthening them would go a long way in ensuring that should any other South African company find itself in a similar situation, it could enjoy equal protection of the law, through urgent and immediate processes being available to it as it required by the Constitution;

c. To consider the current Financial Intelligence Centre Act and the Prevention of Combatting of Corrupt Activities Act regarding the relevant reporting structures set out therein as evidence presented to the IMC was unclear on whether the various banks and financial institutions as well as the Reserve Bank and Treasury complied with these and other pieces of legislation.

The IMC was also briefly ceased with the implications of legal action against any of these entities and the potential impact that would have on the volatility of the Rand as well as the measures that could be put in place to protect the economy. This was not something that fell within the mandate of the IMC and should therefore be considered by the Judicial Enquiry;

d. To re-consider South Africa’s clearing bank provisions to allow for new banking licences to be issued and insodoing, to create a free market economy. The IMC was presented with evidence suggesting that the South African banking system is controlled by a handful of clearing banks which ensured that every other local or international bank participating in the South African banking sector would need to go through these clearing banks in order to have their transactions cleared, thereby creating an oligopoly.

Evidence was also presented that these institutions may have placed undue pressure on banks that sought to assist the company by subjecting them to unwarranted auditing processes. It is unclear why the Reserve Bank will not issue new banking licences to other banks and this would need to be given careful attention by the Judicial Enquiry as it did not fall within the purview of the IMC; and

e. The establishment of a State Bank of South Africa with the possible corporatisation of the Post Bank being considered as an option. Evidence presented to the IMC 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.

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.

It was further agreed that the IMC would monitor the process of finalising these matters and would report-back to Cabinet on their progress.

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