By Siyabonga Mkhwanazi
Business Report

The National Treasury has warned against scrapping the Financial Intelligence Centre Amendment (Fica) Bill, saying it would be highly irresponsible and disastrous for the country.

This came after a heated meeting of the standing committee on finance yesterday where the Black Business Council (BBC) and the Progressive Professionals Forum (PPF) exchanged heated arguments with the EFF.

Three senior counsels, including advocates Steven Budlender, Jeremy Gauntlett and Ishmael Semenya, said the Fica Bill was consistent with the constitution. It flew in the face of President Jacob Zuma’s rejection of the bill, saying it would not meet constitutional muster.

However, the three senior counsels as well as a fourth advocate in Parliament, Frank Jenkins, contended that the bill was constitutional. BBC president Danisa Baloyi and Mzwanele Manyi of the PPF said the bill should be thrown out because it was unconstitutional.

The meeting got heated after EFF MP Floyd Shivambu questioned Sello Rasethaba’s remarks during the meeting. Rasethaba, who is a member of the BBC, was questioning the position of business regarding the bill.

Baloyi said the remarks made by the lawyers that the bill was in line with the constitution and the reality on the ground was that banks had unfettered powers.

“Having listened to the lawyers it’s legal-speak. But the reality is that bank accounts are being closed. We represent 15 organisations and our members’ accounts are closed,” she pointed out. Manyi said they might even approach the Constitutional Court to have the bill dismissed. He said the standing committee should not confine itself to the section referred to Parliament by Zuma for reconsideration.

He said the whole bill needed to be scrapped, but members of the committee said this would not happen.

In his letter to Parliament, Zuma said the institution must look at the constitutionality of searches conducted without warrants.

But Manyi was adamant that the bill in its entirety was problematic and had to be scrapped.

National Treasury deputy director-general Ismail Momoniat warned that scrapping the bill would be disastrous for the country.

He said it was clear from the legal opinion presented by the three senior counsels that the bill was constitutional.

It would have been useful for the BBC and PPF to also present a legal opinion on the bill, he said.

Momomiat added that it was important for all the stakeholders to understand the consequences of scrapping the bill because there seemed to be a lot of misunderstanding.

In terms of the bill, he said South Africa would have to meet its international obligations in fighting the financing of terrorism and money laundering.