By Megameno Shikwambi
The Financial Intelligence Centre (FIC) has come out strongly to deny accusations that it was partly to blame for the financial losses at the now defunct SME Bank by turning a blind eye to events that were happening there.
The FIC is an intelligence gathering body that works in conjunction with the Bank of Namibia and shares data on illicit financial flows with responsible authorities like the police and Anti-Corruption Commission, which does investigations.
Speaking to the media at the occasion of the unveiling of the 2018/19 annual report at the Bank of Namibia, FIC director, Leonie Dunn said it was unfair to consider the entity as having failed to stop the losses at the bank.
“We’ve had successes in that regard and that was in 2014, 2016, 2017, and 2018. So this is how FIUs work. You call them and they will stop the money for you and return it, if possible. Some jurisdictions have legislation impediments that say the FIU can only return the money if there is a request for mutual legal assistance from Namibia,” Dunn remarked.
She further questioned the role of the Namibian police as well as that of the Anti-Corruption Commission and the office of the Prosecutor General. “They all have a role to play in the value chain.
We are a small nation, if we have all have these resources coming to the FIC what are we doing to our other law enforcement agencies ? Globally there is a trend for FICs to be equipped with those investigative powers.” The BoN director highlighted two countries where financial intelligence centres had investigative powers. These countries are Malawi and Seychelles with Seychelles cited as having had phenomenal success.
“It went as far that Seychelles almost lost their entire off-shore banking sector based on the work that the FIC did. So sometimes the scales balance in their favour and at times it did not balance in their favour.
Secondly we have got Malawi which gave their FIC investigative powers last year and currently there is a lot of infighting happening and that is not what we want for our country. We want each of these responsible agencies to collectively add value and make sure that criminals do not benefit.
These are financial transactions. They do not ask for days, they ask for seconds and minutes to take the necessary action. So if we start fighting because of power and we fight because of territory, the criminal is the one that benefits. So going forward, the question should really be will parliament in future consider changing the administrative mandate of FIC and that we cannot answer you today,” she said.
FIC’s deputy director, Kristian Hamutenya said they also work on media reports to help with their work.
“The media has been reporting on the SME Bank since 2013, 2014 and there have been publications on what the FIC has done. Maybe just to add, within the FIC, despite the natural expectation that the reports will be coming in, we also do generate reports internally.
So at times when we pick up things in the media we are able to generate our own reports and also importantly what you perhaps may not understand is, when you run some of these reports in the media, and the FIC, especially our analyses team get hold of these reports, you sometimes give crucial pointers that help direct our analyses.
Hamutenya reminded the media of the need to work alongside the centre. Bank of Namibia governor Iipumbu Shiimi said FIC is there to receive information about the bank’s customers and not the bank itself. “In this case of the SME Bank’s money, it was the bank itself. The person who was supposed to be the first line of reference is the one who did the wrong things and that is not the job of the FIC.
The FIC was established for a specific purpose. They receive, analyze and give that information to law enforcement. It was not established to replace competent authorities.
FIC is just there to assist that process by giving them financial or information on the financial footprint. They are there in essence to help fight crime. Should it recover the money of the SME Bank? There are competent authorities, the police, they are investigating that matter. Also, the liquidators. You may have already seen from the reports from the inquiry that they have recovered some money so let’s hope they will recover some more. It’s not an FIC issue. FIC assists in following the transaction flows,” Ipumbu said.