South African President Reprimands Banks Over Virus Response

South African President Cyril Ramaphosa criticized the nation’s biggest banks for failing to speedily disburse government-backed loans to businesses struggling to survive the coronavirus pandemic, and for not doing enough to promote investment and create jobs.

The government agreed to guarantee 200 billion ($13.3 billion) of loans last year as part of its response to Covid-19, less than 18 billion rand has been dispensed so far. While lenders have drawn criticism for applying loan requirements too stringently, the National Treasury has said banks were willing to adjust their terms and some business operators opted not to apply for financing because they weren’t sure their enterprises would remain viable.

“We put up 200 billion and said assist the private sector, to allow them to protect jobs so that companies are able to operate through Covid, and through that we should also restructure our economy and bring more black people who have been prevented from operating in their own economy,” Ramaphosa said in an address to government officials on Thursday. The response from the banks has been “greatly disappointing,” he said.

South African President Reprimands Banks Over Virus Response

FirstRand Ltd.’s First National Bank, Standard Bank Group Ltd., Absa Group Ltd. and Nedbank Group Ltd. are South Africa’s biggest lenders. They’ve previously stated that they assisted their customers when the pandemic struck and there wasn’t much demand for additional financing after the government-backed plan was announced.

Ramaphosa also said the country was overly reliant on the financial services industry to drive economic growth, and more emphasis needs to be placed on promoting industrialization and manufacturing which would help address the 32.5% unemployment rate.

“The profits that our financial sector has been making has just been huge, billions and billions,” and not enough of the money is invested in job-creating assets, he said. The banking industry also remains too highly monopolized, with money rotating between the four main lenders, he said.

The president also said the government’s “archaic procurement system” needed overhauling to promote entrepreneurship among the country’s black majority, while ensuring it wasn’t susceptible to corruption.

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