CAPE TOWN (Reuters) – An opposition politician’s bill to nationalize the South African central bank that spooked investors when first unveiled a year ago has been revived and referred back to lawmakers, parliamentary papers showed on Tuesday.
The reintroduction of the bill comes at an awkward time for President Cyril Ramaphosa, who is on an investment drive to boost an ailing economy. He has to juggle his pro-business approach with left-leaning elements of the ruling African National Congress that want to legislate for land expropriation without compensation, among other policies.
Introduced by leftist politician, Julius Malema, in August last year, the bill lapsed when a new parliament was elected in May. Malema’s Economic Freedom Fighters were one big winner, gaining 19 new seats.
When initially introduced, the South African Reserve Bank Amendment Bill put pressure on the ANC to go through with a plan it shelved in 2018 and rattled markets wary of threats to the central bank’s independence.
The ANC has said any plans to nationalize the bank will be done responsibly and not affect the institution’s mandate or independence. Reserve Bank governor Lesetja Kganyago has previously warned that the ownership debate was increasing investor uncertainty and pushing up the risk premium attached to the country’s debt.
Unlike most central banks in the world, the South African Reserve Bank (SARB) is privately owned. The ANC resolved at a party conference in December 2017 to move it into full state ownership.
Malema’s private members bill will be referred to the Standing Committee on Finance for further deliberations and public input before the lower house of parliament votes on it. If passed, it would normally then go to parliament’s upper house for approval before Ramaphosa signs it into law.
Malema, however, believes it is not necessary to refer the bill to the upper house, which could hasten its passing.
(Reporting by Wendell Roelf; Editing by Catherine Evans)