South Africa’s central bank – ownership, mandate and independence

Discussions over independence of South Africa’s central bank continue.

Prof Jannie Rossouw of the University of the Witwatersrand in this piece looks at the issues.

In recent months, various debates about the South African Reserve Bank have focused broadly on three aspects – its shareholding, its mandate and its independence.

The three debates are somewhat convoluted. They are indeed three different issues, but they are interlinked.

Let’s turn to the issue of ownership first.

The South African Reserve Bank is one of only eight central banks in the world with private shareholders. The others are in Belgium, Greece, Italy, Japan, San Marino, Switzerland and Turkey.

The debate about shareholding in South Africa’s Reserve Bank centres around the issue of nationalisation. Some political players, such as the third largest party – the Economic Freedom Fighters – are calling for the ownership of the Bank to be transferred from current private shareholders to the South African government and has tabled a bill in Parliament to achieve this objective.

The issue is very charged. But it’s also confused and not very well understood. There’s an assumption that a change of ownership would automatically mean a change in the role the Bank plays. This isn’t the case because in fact the Bank’s shareholders play no role in its mandate. In that sense it doesn’t matter who the shareholders are. Because they can’t affect its mandate, nationalisation won’t affect the independence of the central bank.

But there are other ways in which the Bank’s ability to do its job can be undermined. This is where the Bank’s primary mandate comes in.

Hmm..

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