Parliament's finance standing committee chairman Yunus Carrim. File picture: Katlholo Maifadi/GCIS.
Cape Town - Parliament's finance standing committee on Saturday added its voice to those welcoming the long-awaited signing by President Jacob Zuma of the Financial Intelligence Centre Amendment (Fica) Bill into law. 

Committee chairman Yunus Carrim said the bill would help the country's efforts to combat money laundering, illicit financial flows, and financing of terrorism. 

“Our country has lost over R600 billion in illicit financial flows over the past 10 years. It is big businesses, not emerging black businesses that are primarily responsible for this. It is the poor and disadvantaged who ultimately bear a disproportional burden,” he said. 

The committee believed that opposition to the bill was based mainly on misunderstandings about or misrepresentations of it. It had always maintained that the bill did not give the banks any more powers than they currently had, but it did strengthen the capacity of the state to tackle corruption. Carrim said the bill would ultimately serve the needs of the poor and disadvantaged the most and was part of the "radical economic transformative agenda". 

Earlier on Saturday, the Banking Association of South Africa (Basa) said it was relieved that Zuma had finally signed the bill into law.  

“We have been urging the president to sign the bill for a number of months and, though we welcome the signing, it is a pity we reached a stage where FATF [the Financial Action Task Force on Money Laundering] had to warn us we would be delinquent if we had not signed by June,” Basa MD Cas Coovadia said.

“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,” Coovadia said.  

However, the Democratic Alliance warned there was a risk that Finance Minister Malusi Gigaba may delay implementation of the bill – one of the most important legislative weapons in the fight against corruption in South Africa – despite it having been signed by Zuma.  

The Fica amendment bill provided for ongoing monitoring of the business relationships, sources of wealth, and sources of funds of “domestic prominent influential persons” and family members and close associates of such persons in South Africa, DA spokesman David Maynier said. 

“What this means is that President Jacob Zuma and his most important clients, the Guptas, are going to feel the heat as their business relationships, sources of wealth, and sources of funds are subjected to ongoing monitoring by financial institutions in South Africa. 

“However, the battle is far from over and there could still be significant delays in implementing the legislation because despite being signed into law... the legislation only actually commences on a date to be determined by the minister and published in the Government Gazette,” he said. 

“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. The minister should, therefore, take decisive action and set out clear time frames and budgets for the implementation of the Financial Intelligence Centre Amendment Bill. 

“Whatever the case, we will have to very carefully monitor the implementation of the Financial Intelligence Centre Amendment Bill,” Maynier said.  

The presidency announced on Saturday morning that Zuma had signed the bill. It said the measure further strengthened the “transparency and integrity of the South African financial system in its objectives to combat financial crimes, which include tax evasion, money laundering, and the financing of terrorism and illicit financial flows”.  

The amendments also made it harder for people involved in illegitimate activities or tax evasion to hide behind legal entities such as shell companies and trusts, the presidency said in a statement.

African News Agency