By Petronella Sibeene WINDHOEK The Bankers Association of Namibia says there is a general misconception resulting in the current stir over the high service charges by financial institutions. Yesterday, the president of the Bankers’ Association of Namibia and also the Managing Director of the First National Bank (FNB) Leonard Haynes acknowledged that complaints from members of the public have indeed induced debate even at parliament level but the association regards all this as “miscommunication” between those in the industry and the customers. The association in the past engaged in educational programmes with its clients (the four banks) as part of a communication strategy involving the publishing of specific bank rates. This was done to ensure transparency. Haynes says, “We are trying to inform our clients to make use of cheaper channels.” Though he could not elaborate, Haynes also noted that the association would soon participate in what he termed a bank focus week. This initiative by the Bank of Namibia (BoN) entails identifying different platforms where the public can be provided with information that would enable them to make informed decisions about products they are interested in. Last week, Namibian consumers requested the Parliamentary Standing Committee on Economics, Natural Resources and Public Administration to investigate alleged high bank charges. They further want parliament to investigate how these charges have acted as a catalyst in the mushrooming of cash loan businesses. Former president of the bankers’ Association of Namibia and Managing Director of Standard Bank, Theo Mberirua once confirmed to New Era that the BoN regulates all banks in the country and as such, auditing is carried out timely, leaving no space for any fraudulent activities. Governor of BoN, Tom Alweendo also acknowledged that bank charges in Namibia are among the highest in Africa. He suggested that the legislature creates an office similar to that of the Ombudsman to provide arbitration. Though complaints from the public have been that banks are profiteering at the expense of customers, Mberirua stated that the public could not claim that banks are overcharging them without specifying what services they are being overcharged on. Nonetheless, he added that banks are to a certain extent at fault because of their failure to provide sufficient information to their respective clients and thus it is imperative that they disclose information with regard to fees structures, charges and commissions so that customers can make informed decisions regarding their choice of services with commercial banks. Some people have argued that the current situation has been supported by lack of enough banks for a population of close to two million people. Currently, there are only four commercial banks in Namibia, namely Standard Bank, NedBank, First National bank and Bank Windhoek. However, the current situation is not peculiar to Namibia, as neighbouring South Africa’s Competition Commission this week announced it would hold a public inquiry into bank fees to uncover real costs charged by four of its banks. A report that looked into anti-competitive practices in the motor industry revealed that banks currently decide among themselves what they would charge. Bank charges in South Africa are reported to be amongst the highest in the world and most banks in Namibia are of South African origin. This could mean that Namibian bank charges are affected. Acting competition commissioner in South Africa Shaun Ramburuth stressed that one difficulty was lack of information on how banks arrive at their charges. European countries such as Belgium are also faced with the same problem, with recent reports showing that European banks are not serving their customers well. Banks are benefiting to a large extent from faithful customers who are afraid to switch banks given the high costs involved in such an exercise. Deputy Minister of Finance Tjekero Tweya believes banks are “stealing” from the public and as such, it is important for them to ensure a sound, stable and efficient payment system, and at the same time find ways to keep fees affordable to consumers.
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