The recent decision by the Central Bank of Nigeria (CBN) for a rapprochement between it, mobile telecommunications giant, MTN Nigeria, and four banks – Diamond Bank, Standard Chartered, Stanbic IBTC and Citi Bank – aftermath of sanction meted out to them in an alleged infraction is an action that should be commended.
The action has not only portrayed the apex bank as a regulator that is prepared to listen to all shades of opinions, but also one that is all out to allow foreign investors thrive and contribute immensely to the economy, according to extant laws. Although sanctions have been dealt out to the affected organisations with the banks having the fines deducted from their accounts with CBN, a second look at the whole scenario may either prove them innocent or allow the status quo remain.
To put everything in the right perspective, the apex bank believes the review of details submitted by the four banks, accused of helping the South African telecoms company to illegally repatriate $8.1 billion, is being done with a view to reaching an equitable resolution.
With the new development, it is the intention of the apex bank to create more opportunities for foreign investments and investors following on the heels of recent innovations and reforms of the foreign exchange regime such as the introduction of the NAFEX window, designed to simplify foreign exchange regulations. These are commendable steps providing an atmosphere of friendship between a regulator and those it regulates.
Although the apex bank appeared to be hasty in its decision to sanction the ‘culprits,’ MTN also appeared sure of its position by promptly denying any wrongdoing.
As part of its defence, MTN Nigeria refuted the allegations and claims on the ground that no dividends have been declared or paid by MTN Nigeria other than pursuant to Certificates of Capital Importation (CCIs) issued by its bankers and with the approval of CBN as required by law.
It also claimed issues surrounding the CCIs had already been the subject of a thorough inquiry by the Senate wherein the lawmakers in 2016 mandated the Committee on Banking, Insurance and other Financial Institutions to carry out a holistic investigation on compliance with the foreign exchange (monitoring and miscellaneous) Act by MTN Nigeria & Others. From the report, it was established that MTN Nigeria did not collude to contravene the foreign exchange laws.
Like it rightly said, the re-emergence of these issues is regrettable as it damages investor confidence and, by extension, inhibits the growth and development of the Nigerian economy. With the four banks towing the same line with MTN Nigeria, it is heartwarming that the apex bank has taken the decision to review the alleged infraction, as this should have been the right path to be taken before passing judgement on the firms.
As a matter of fact, $8.1 billion out of a struggling economy like that of Nigeria unlawfully is enough to further roughen the country’s recovery process. By every arithmetic calculation, $8 billion is almost half of the nation’s budget that is a little over N8 trillion for the current year, considering the current value of the dollar to naira.
Obviously, Nigerians are getting tired of business interests that are swooping into the country only to enslave local employees, repatriate bulk of their profits back to their countries and in no small way destroy local industries. The details of the offence as spelt out by the apex bank were as clear as widely reported and feasted on by the media.
In wielding its big stick, the apex bank has gone ahead to do what it believes is right within its regulatory powers by debiting the accounts of Standard Chartered Bank with N2.4 billion, Stanbic IBTC N1.88 billion, Citibank Nigeria N1.2 billion and Diamond Bank N250 million for being parties to the unlawful transfer.
Obviously, some school of thought might see the apex bank’s action in this regard as harsh but it is also a welcome development to see a regulator taking a drastic position on an action that poses a threat to the economy that have suffered deeply in the hands of dubious business interests. While Nigerians await the final outcome of the latest move for equitable resolution like the CBN said, we, however, posit that foreigners who are in the country for business should learn to observe the laid down rules guiding such process.
We also advise that for the firms affected not to be seen as being unnecessarily victimised, they should be given the opportunity to exhaust their defence. As much as we demand that erring investors be penalised, we are sounding it out again that such penalty would be more effective if influential Nigerians behind such crime are also duly prosecuted.
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