Relief as Zuma signs FICA bill into law

Cape Town - The Banking Association of South Africa (BASA) breathed a huge sigh of relief after President Jacob Zuma signed the Financial Intelligence Centre Amendment (FICA) bill into law.

The FIC Bill is important in bolstering the fight against global financial crime and improving the integrity of South Africa’s banking system.

Pressure was mounting on South Africa to enact the bill with the Financial Action Task Force (FATF) – the body that monitors compliance with anti-terrorism and anti-money laundering regulations – giving the country until June to enact the legislation.

READ: FIC Bill delay: Presidency keeps mum as clock ticks

The Fica Bill, which has been fiercely opposed by the Black Business Council (BBC) and ex-government spokesperson Mzwanele Manyi’s Progressive Professionals Forum (PPF), was initially passed by Parliament in May 2016 and submitted for Zuma to sign on June 13.

However, Zuma dragged his heels on signing the bill, which he sent back to Parliament in December, six months after it landed on his desk, citing concerns over a provision that pertained to warrantless searches.

After another round of public hearings in January to address the concerns raised by Zuma and other stakeholders, including the PPC, the bill was unanimously passed by the National Assembly in February and sent to the president for ratification.

"The President is now satisfied that the Act addresses the constitutional concerns he had raised about warrantless searches," the Presidency’s Dr Bongani Ngqulunga said in a statement on Saturday.

"The Amendment Act sends a strong message about South Africa’s commitment to combating financial crime, protecting the integrity of our financial system and our tax base, and remaining part of the global financial system. They further demonstrate South Africa’s membership commitments to the Financial Action Task Force and United Nations," he added.

READ: ANC abhors money laundering, says Ramaphosa on FIC Bill

However, BASA's managing director Cas Coovadia said "it is a pity we reached a stage where FATF had to warn us we would be delinquent if we had not signed by June".

He explained that the signing of the bill ensures banks in SA remain at the cutting edge of global best practice and we are able to identify and deal with money laundering, terrorism financing and other such activities.

"The signing also enables a risk-based approach to combating these activities, so that bank clients who are less susceptible to such activities will be subject to lighter touch regulation and those significantly susceptible to such activities will be subject to stronger oversight."

READ: Zuma slammed for wasting time as Parliament adopts FIC Bill

Meanwhile, the DA is now fearing that Finance Minister Malusi Gigaba may delay the implementation of the bill.

DA MP and spokesperson on finance David Maynier said there could still be significant delays in implementing the legislation because it only actually commence on a date to be determined by the minister and published in the Government Gazette.

"The minister will no doubt be under political pressure to delay the implementation of the legislation to protect his political master’s most important clients, the Guptas," he claimed.

"There are also doubts about whether the Financial Intelligence Centre, which only has a budget of R289 million for 2017/18, will have the resources to effectively implement the Financial Intelligence Centre Amendment Bill."

Maynier said Gibaga should set out clear timeframes and budgets for the implementation of the bill. "Whatever the case, we will have to very carefully monitor the implementation of the Financial Intelligence Centre Amendment Bill."

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