Jacob Zuma warned to sign Fica bill
Council for the Advancement of the South African Constitution threatens to take president to court over delay
The Council for the Advancement of the South African Constitution (Casac) has written to President Jacob Zuma, asking that he sign the Financial Intelligence Centre Amendment (Fica) Bill immediately, failing which the organisation will take him to the Constitutional Court to force his hand.
Corruption Watch has threatened to follow suit as the Progressive Professionals Forum (PPF) ups the ante in its opposition to the bill. PPF president Mzwanele Manyi said on Thursday that the PPF would decide whether to contest the bill in the Constitutional Court once it had studied the final version signed by the president.
Zuma has had almost two months to sign the bill which was readopted by Parliament at the end of February and which is required for SA to meet its international commitments to the Financial Action Task Force (FATF). These include instituting measures to strengthen the fight against money laundering and the financing of terrorism as provided for in the bill.
If SA does not get the Fica bill on its statute books by June it could be declared delinquent by task force, creating difficulties for SA’s banks in their relationships with foreign banks. Such relationships are vital to effect payment for imports and exports. The first deadline in February was missed.
It is important for SA to demonstrate its commitment to the sound financial management of the economy, especially in the wake of the recent credit ratings downgrades which indicated a lack of international confidence in SA’s fiscal prudence. The president sent the bill back to Parliament late in 2016, after a delay of about six months, because of his concerns over the constitutionality of a provision for warrantless searches.
Observers said on Wednesday there was no reason for Zuma’s long delay as he only had to satisfy himself on the single issue of warrantless searches and not the bill in its entirety, which he had considered previously. "The time is completely reasonable for the president to have signed the bill by now," Corruption Watch executive director David Lewis said.
Banking Association of SA MD Cas Coovadia said: "There are not any constitutional issues involved."
By not promulgating the bill SA was sending out the message that it was not serious about dealing with money laundering and the financing of terrorism.
Casac approached the court in November 2016 about Zuma’s delay in signing the bill and it was only on the day on which Zuma was supposed to file his replying affidavit that he referred the bill back to Parliament.
There is nothing in law which prescribes the period within which Zuma has to act on bills, but Casac executive secretary Lawson Naidoo said the Constitution did require the president to perform his duties diligently. "We would argue that he has not been diligent with regard to this bill, given the need for SA to comply with FATF regulations and to fight corruption," he said. Zuma did not have the power to effectively veto legislation passed by Parliament.
The DA will be applying political pressure on Zuma to sign the bill which finance spokesman David Maynier said "is a vital legislative weapon in the fight against corruption".
"One suspects that what became known as the Gupta clause, which will ensure that ‘domestic prominent influential persons’ are more carefully scrutinised, may again be the reason for the delay in assenting to and signing the bill. The bottom line is that if the bill is signed into law, Zuma and his … clients, the Guptas, are going to feel a lot more heat."