The bombshell dropped by the Competition Commission this week, which points to widespread unethical collusion in currency trading in an age where technology moves faster than a blink, tends to show there is more than a mask and a gun to commit what local politicians were quick to label daylight robbery.
The commission claims that a number of our major financial banks – as well as multinational financial institutions abroad – colluded for years towards what in layman’s terms amounted to rigging the rate at which the dollar was traded against the rand.
In the commission’s words, commercial banks had “a general agreement to collude on prices for bids, offers and bid-offer spreads in relation to currency trading involving dollar currency pairs”.
It is, as in all matters of multimillion-dollar deals, a lot more complex than a simplistic series of monetary manoeuvres aimed to advantage the voracious bottom line of the banking system, involving false bids and withholding trades. And another thought springs to mind: this is a bank heist in reverse.
The commission announced it had referred the matter to its tribunal for prosecution and commissioner Tembinkosi Bonakele. If found culpable, the banks will be liable for an administrative penalty “equal to 10% of their turnover”.
But whatever the outcome, the banking system, already facing the challenges of regeneration in the wake of progressive scandals and major collapses of currencies, would again be hard-hit.
In this country, the growing argument for “radical transformation of the economy”, would be given fresh impetus in the clamour of political debate over “white monopoly capitalism”, which is still taking shape.
There is also the sinking feeling that it is the poor who will lose out.