NEWS

Zuma Has 10 Days To Sign Fica -- Or Be Taken To Court

The NGO Casac is attempting to force the president's hand over approving the Financial Intelligence Centre Amendment bill.

21/04/2017 05:49 SAST | Updated 21/04/2017 06:05 SAST
James Oatway / Reuters
President Jacob Zuma addresses crowds gathered to celebrate his 75th birthday in Kliptown, Johannesburg, South Africa April 12, 2017.

President Jacob Zuma has 10 days to either sign the Financial Intelligence Centre Amendment bill or he will find himself at the Constitutional Court, again, having to explain why he has not passed it.

The president has so far not explained why he has failed to sign the bill, which is aimed at combating financial crimes like money laundering and tax evasion. It was approved by Parliament last month.

If Zuma does not pass the bill because he has concerns about its legality, he has to send it to the Constitutional Court for a verdict.

These are his only options, said Lawson Naidoo of the Centre for the Advancement of the South African Constitution (Casac). Speaking to the Huffington Post SA on Thursday, Casac said it has given Zuma 10 working days either to sign the bill, or meet them in court.

Opposition parties in Parliament also called for Zuma to sign the bill this week. According to Indepndent Online, the IFP's Mkhuleko Hlengwa said: "Parliament thoroughly dealt with the constitutional questions that he had raised. We want to impress upon the president to prioritise this bill."

The bill was tabled in Parliament by Treasury in April 2015, after determining that the piece of legislation needed a longer overdue clean-up. This is because South Africa has been a member of the Financial Action Task Force (FAFT), which is an international body that works to combat financial crime, since 2003. The South African piece of legislation had to be updated to bring it in line with FAFT standards.

Zuma sat on the bill for months, until Casac filed papers at the Constitutional Court in November last year. On the day that Zuma had to file his responding papers, he sent the bill back to Parliament on November 30, with concerns about the constitutionality of the clauses about warrantless searches.

The bill increases regulation of banks and other financial institutions, including trusts and estate agents, and is supposed to prevent financial crimes like money laundering.

While Zuma highlighted concerns around warrantless searches, his real bone of contention is believed by some experts to be that it could expose politically-connected people. The bill would oblige banks for example to look into the activities of such clients.

These clients could hypothetically include people close to the president such as, say, the Guptas.

What's at stake is probably best indicated by those who are not in favour of the bill.

The Gupta-owned television station ANN7, for example, has campaigned against it. When the bill was signed off by Parliament, it said it was "most certainly the worst and shameful day for South Africa" and "the beginning of a long winter of discontent".

MPs have been uncharacteristically united in saying the bill is constitutional and ready to be passed.

Chairperson of Parliament's portfolio committee on finance, Yunus Carrim, said the bill had been misunderstood by its critics.

The Progressive Professionals Forum (PPF) and Black Business Council (BBC) have said that the bill would victimise black African businesses.

"Their argument is that aspects of the powers granted to the inspectors of the Financial Intelligence Centre are unconstitutional and they belong to the security sector," Carrim told talk radio station 702.

"There seems to be some confusion. It is not the banks that have any special power through this bill‚ it's the Financial Intelligence Centre that does effectively.

"Emerging entrepreneurs cannot use as an excuse the banks' regulatory dispensation and their policies as being discriminatory if they themselves as individuals are doing things outside the law.

"We need to find the right balance‚ it doesn't matter what colour your skin colour is‚ you must abide by the law and the practices that are legitimate‚ and don't use this bill as an excuse," he said.