Fica delay raises questions
In June, Parliament passed the Financial Intelligence Centre Amendment Bill, an important piece of legislation meant to strengthen the fight against money laundering and other illegal abuses of the banking system.
The bill, concluded after extensive public input and a comprehensive debate in the national legislature, also aims to bring South Africa in line with the requirements of the Financial Action Task Force, the global body that oversees the integrity of the financial system.
The task force ensures that the system is not abused by terrorist groups and criminal syndicates.
The bill was sent to President Jacob Zuma to sign before the task force’s stipulated February compliance deadline. A lengthy public consultation process ensued. Then, as the deadline approached, there suddenly came a flurry of objections from groups which had not made use of the public consultation process.
One of these objectors was the Black Business Council, a respectable group which should support measures aimed at ensuring good financial governance and ethical conduct. The predictable – and more understandable – objection came from the Progressive Professionals Forum, comprised mainly of Mzwanele Manyi and his Twitter account.
Zuma correctly undertook to apply his mind to the objections before signing the bill. Nearly five months passed, during which Zuma found time to attend the Vodacom Durban July horse race and the Reed Dance, to address election rallies and to dodge Public Protector Thuli Madonsela’s questions about state capture.
This week – three weeks after the Council for the Advancement of the SA Constitution filed a court application compelling Zuma to act on the bill – the president referred it back to Parliament. He cited concerns about its constitutionality, particularly in terms of the bill’s “impermissibly overbroad” provisions for the invasion of the “inner sanctum” of people’s privacy, and the broad powers it gave to a proposed “inspector”. He urged Parliament to fix the bill to bring it in line with the Constitution.
While South Africa should welcome Zuma’s discovery of his constitutional bone, the timing of his intervention is suspect. Parliament should have ended its 2016 session this week, but extended it to next week to deal with unfinished business. This means Zuma did not see any urgency in the bill being fixed before Parliament resumes on February 9.
By the time the legislature gets the chance to do proper work on the bill – and the National Assembly gets to debate and vote on it – the deadline is likely to have passed.
This begs the question: Whose interests does it serve to leave our financial system vulnerable to money laundering and illicit outflows of cash?