Fresh Zupta attack on SA banks: Judicial Enquiry coming. Madness continues.

South Africa’s Mining Minister Mosebenzi Zwane, whose academic qualification is a secondary teacher’s diploma, has come a long way in a very short time. Elevated from a lowly position in the Free State Provincial Government a year ago, a favourite of President Jacob Zuma is now an expert on the financial system. His statement issued on Thursday night (read below) recommending a Judicial Enquiry into SA’s banking sector will send more shock waves into already jittery markets. More so that it makes specific mention that the man under whose remit banks currently fall, Finance Minister Pravin Gordhan, did not participate in either the investigation or conclusions reached by Zuma’s speedily appointed “Inter-Ministerial Committee”. Also troubling is how all of this effort and the considerable additional costs to taxpayers is based on perceived sleights to Zuma’s friends, the crony capitalist Gupta family whose bank accounts were closed earlier this year. Zwane is closely associated with the Guptas, directly assisting in negotiations to buy multinational Glencore’s Optimum Coal Mine. This week Optimum emerged from “business rescue” and has been financially supported by state-owned electricity utility Eskom, whose board includes Gupta mothership director Mark Pamensky. Zwane’s statement was released after former SA Reserve Bank governor Tito Mboweni made a public appeal to the country’s leadership to bring themselves up to speed with the history and workings of Sarb. The madness continues.  – Alec Hogg  

Issued by the Department of Mineral Resources

Statement of the chairperson of the inter-ministerial committee set up by Cabinet to consider the implications of the decisions of certain banks and audit firms to close the accounts of and/or withdraw auditing services from Oakbay Investments.

Mosebenzi Zwane, South Africa's mineral resources minister, speaks on the opening day of the Investing in African Mining Indaba in Cape Town, South Africa, on Monday, Feb. 8, 2016. With many miners battling to stay afloat, fewer are willing to shell out 1,140 pounds ($1,641) for the Investing in African Mining Indaba conference in South Africa and business-class airfare. Photographer: Waldo Swiegers/Bloomberg *** Local Caption *** Mosebenzi Zwane
Mosebenzi Zwane, South Africa’s mineral resources minister. Photographer: Waldo Swiegers/Bloomberg

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:-

  • 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;
  • 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;
  • 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;
  • 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
  • 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.