Namibia can protect economy from greylisting

• By Josef Kefas Sheehama

AFTER all, the Namibian economy of tomorrow depends on the wisdom of the policymaker’s decisions today.

The Minister of Finance and Public Enterprises, Ipumbu Shiimi, has given lawmakers 14 days to amend and table new laws to address strategic inadequacies to counter money laundering and terrorist financing within a given timeframe. Namibia must submit the report to Financial Action Task Force (FATF) on whether the country meets the requirements. This report will be assessed by October 2023. In February 2024, Namibia will know whether it will be greylisted.

Furthermore, according to the Bank of Namibia, Namibia has shown significant political commitment to meeting the FATF requirements. To avoid greylisting, Cabinet directed institutions and stakeholders to implement an action plan adopted in December 2022. The FATF is an intergovernmental policymaking body that determines anti-money laundering (AML) and combating the financing of terrorism (CFT) standards to safeguard the global financial system.

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The FATF aims to tackle global money laundering and terrorist financing. The impacts of greylisting may hinder Namibia’s economic growth and development.

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Furthermore, the global correspondent banks involved in transactions with Namibia’s entities will likely demand higher due diligence.

This is positive because it will necessitate greater documentation and transparency within countries’ financial systems, helping improve AML/CFT practices. South Africa was put on a grey list by the Financial Action Task Force (FATF) for falling short of certain international standards for combating money laundering and other serious financial crimes. However, banks will have to enhance their compliance procedures.

Furthermore, according to a report by the International Monetary Fund (IMF), greylisting significantly decreases capital inflows. For vulnerable countries, this could result in an imbalance of payments. This is because greylisting entails that all transactions of country companies and individuals will be considered high-risk, resulting in complicated compliance and administrative duties and likely disincentivising investment and trade with Namibia.

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We must understand that the Fishrot plunges Namibia into the spotlight for money laundering and financial crimes.

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In the Fishrot case, some companies received bribes and other payments for the benefit of the implicated people. This was due to a lack of beneficial ownership information relating to legal persons. Due to the Fishrot scandal, Namibia is now under scrutiny by the International Cooperation Review Group (ICRG) due to some deficiencies in its domestic anti-money laundering. The effectiveness of a country’s AML/CFT/CFP system is measured against 11 predetermined immediate outcomes (IOs), and ratings can be either highly effective (HE), substantially effective (SE), moderately effective (ME), or low level of effectiveness (LE). Hence, greylisting will discourage foreign direct investment (FDI) in Namibia and reduce capital inflows. Therefore, corruption can harm economic development, the fight against organised crime, respect for the law, and effective governance. It goes on to say that corruption and money laundering are intrinsically linked. Corruption offences such as bribery or theft of public funds are generally committed to obtaining private gain.

It will raise the cost of doing business in our country, making foreign investors reluctant to invest in the economy. This is because international counterparts must undertake increased due diligence when dealing with Namibian companies. As transaction costs rise, there is a disincentive to do business with Namibia. Namibia will be considered a high-risk business jurisdiction, so some foreign investors might take out their investments. This will affect cross-border capital flows, especially for the trade sector. Documentary requirements for export and import payments, such as letters of credit, may become more challenging. These changes will make Namibia’s foreign exchange control regime more restrictive. However, we do not expect this to create any major barriers to ongoing trade and investment flows for the economy as a whole.

Moreover, lawmakers should take these 14 days seriously without politicising or playing blame games. We need to save our economy as well as avoid being greylisted. Politicians need to understand that the major FATF-related risk to the economy stems from the possibility of the cabinet’s plan of action being adopted in December 2022 but unable to implement the action plan satisfactorily. The greylisting will have negative consequences, making business more costly and cumbersome, particularly across borders.

Aside from the economic cost, the greylisting is a sharp reminder that we are behind the curve in implementing the reforms we have promised to fight crime, corruption, and money laundering. That is causing severe damage to the economy and the social fabric. We should not need the FATF to tell us that the delivery of these reforms should be sped up.

In addition, should the lawmakers fail to meet the FATF recommendations by October 2023, Namibia will be added to the FATF grey list in February 2024. It is vital to note that money laundering is a serious financial crime. It also negatively affects the national economy by damaging financial sector institutions critical for economic growth. Once established in a particular economy, money laundering practices will promote crime and corruption. Namibia should demonstrate sufficient progress at the end of the 12-month observation period, which is something Namibia should avoid at all costs. According to Honourable Ipumbu, the amendment of the Financial Intelligence Act will remove provisions requiring companies, both corporations and trusts, to submit certain information to the register of companies and close corporations. This step is taken to avoid duplication with legislation governing companies, close cooperation, and trusts.

“The bill will secure the independence and autonomy of the Financial Intelligence Centre, establish the centre’s board, define its powers and functions, and include certain persons as members of the Anti-Money Laundering and Combating Financing of Terrorism and Proliferation Council. Additionally, the bill will amend the functions of the country to require accountable institutions to identify beneficiaries and beneficial owners of life insurance policies and other investment-related policies.”

To this end, regardless of the outcome of the FATF’s decision in February 2024, this warning should serve as a wake-up call for Namibian policymakers, regulators, and law enforcement agencies to convince the country’s international counterparts it is worth their effort to maintain relationships as Namibia continues to build a more robust legal and compliance framework to remain competitive on the global stage.