Suddenly, almost out of the blue, the parliamentary portfolio committee on trade and industry seems to have woken up to the possibility that there are a variety of measures that could be used to try to rescue the unsecured lending industry from itself.
Up to now the focus has been on wiping out part, or all, of the huge swathes of information held by credit bureaus. But none of the three versions of this proposal received much support from the many parties that have made submissions to the committee over the past year.
Even Treasury deputy director-general Ismail Momoniat was not persuaded that wiping out this information was the appropriate way to deal with the problem. Indeed, anyone who attended Momoniat’s presentation to the committee two weeks ago would probably not be too surprised by the proposed amendments that were released by the committee on Friday.
The deputy director-general likened the financial sector to a nuclear facility – “it provides lots of benefits but you only need one problem to create a crisis”.
It is an excellent analogy, as many of African Bank and JD Group shareholders will attest to.
He suggested that the regulators should have been tougher five years ago, but were under pressure to encourage lending “so as not to be seen as party poopers”.
South Africa is now living with the consequences of that lax attitude. “When people are over-indebted it causes all sorts of problems,” said Momoniat, making special reference to Marikana. He added that intrusive supervision was needed to regulate the financial sector.
If you think that’s tough talking, consider that back in the 14th century, according to Felix Martin in his book Money, the authorities in the Catalonian region of Spain decided that any banker who failed to meet his clients was to be publicly denounced and then summarily beheaded in front of his bank. This makes Basel 3 seem a little wishy-washy.
In the aftermath of the fatal shooting of 34 protesting miners at Marikana on August 16, 2012, and the continuing labour unrest in the mining industry, the disclosure by listed construction and engineering company Group Five that it doubled the mining housing component of its R6.63 billion building and housing secured order book in the six months to December is positive news for the embattled mining industry.
This is particularly so as labour unrest in the mining industry has been partially attributed to the poor living conditions of mineworkers, with many having no option but to live in shacks.
In addition, this is not a new business area for Group Five, which said it had been building housing for the mining industry for many years.
So the doubling of its mining housing order book does not represent a steep increase off a low base.
Group Five is obviously not the only construction firm involved in competing for housing contracts in the mining sector but its comments give an indication of new trends in the mining industry.
Group Five chief executive Mike Upton believed the increase in the group’s mining houses order book stemmed from a recognition in the mining industry that mining houses needed to do something better in terms of the social environment.
The increased investment in housing in the mining industry comes against the backdrop of targets set in the mining charter for the industry to improve the living conditions of mineworkers. However, National Planning Minister Trevor Manuel expressed doubt last year that the mining industry would meet the requirements of the charter.
Mining firms have been severely criticised since the Marikana tragedy for their failure to improve the living conditions of their workers. In light of the continuing labour unrest on the mines, it is strange the industry is not actively involved in spreading the word about what it is doing for its workers – irrespective of whether or not it meets the mining charter targets. page 15
Is Tito Mboweni’s resignation as chairman of AngloGold Ashanti, ostensibly “as a result of his increasing portfolio of professional commitments”, a sign of preparation for another stint in the engine room of the country’s economy?
If there is the slightest hint of truth in the speculation that Pravin Gordhan plans to retire as finance minister, then who would make a better replacement than Mboweni? Gordhan can leave the job he was appointed to by President Jacob Zuma five years ago with his head held high.
The economy on his watch has merely staggered and stagnated in the wake of the global financial crisis, which was just warming up when he took the job after an outstanding run by Trevor Manuel.
But since then the deficit has edged upwards as the balance of trade has sagged and the volatile rand, now in downward mode, looks unlikely to recover its former strength any time soon.
The country may indeed be a better place than it was in the bad, bad days before 1994 but the signs are that the next few years, especially with the current leadership in place, just promises to be more of the same, with the economy – saddled now with rising interest rates – struggling to reach 4 percent growth by 2018.
Mboweni, who started out as a socialist looking after labour legislation in the first Mandela cabinet, was shuffled off in 1999 to bring the Reserve Bank into the light. For 10 years the bankers’ world of finely tailored pin-stripe suits, expensive whiskey, fly-fishing and inflation-beating conservative fiscal stances seemed to fit him like a glove.
Mboweni has been an international adviser of Goldman Sachs International since June 2010.
If Zuma does find himself casting about for a new finance minister he would be hard put to find a better CV.
Edited by Peter DeIonno. With contributions from Ann Crotty, Roy Cokayne and Peter DeIonno.