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Why Central Banks Need to Take Human Rights More Seriously

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Many central banks are rethinking their approach to the environmental and social impact of their operations.

 

According to Danny Bradlow, SARCHI Professor of International Development Law and African Economic Relations, University of Pretoria, this is because their decisions can affect access to housing, healthcare, education, work, to adequate food and water and the security of their pensions.

 

At the One Planet summit in Paris two years ago, a network of central banks and supervisors was set up with the main focus on climate change. Now with 40 members from five continents, the network is drawn to pay more attention to other environmental and social considerations.

 

The precise mandates of central banks vary. But one thing they all have in common is responsibility for maintaining price stability. Their primary policy tools for achieving this objective are interest rates, the capital and reserve requirements for banks, and trading debt instruments in financial markets.

 

Bradlow  said that Central banks also act as a lender of last resort to the banking system or more generally to the financial sector.

 

They regulate and supervise the activities of banks and other financial institutions. They manage the country’s payment system, maintain financial stability and manage the country’s foreign exchange reserves. In some countries, the central bank can be given additional responsibilities such as promoting development finance or financial inclusion.

 

To fully understand the risk that climate poses to price and financial stability, central banks need to consider how changing weather patterns will affect a number of variables. These include food production, migration patterns, and people’s access to food, water, housing, and jobs, and how these, in turn, influence aggregate demand, credit allocation, inflation and government deficits.

 

In other words, as I explain in more detail in this article, central bankers are being inexorably pushed to reconsider the relationship between central banking and human rights.

 

The connections

According to Bradlow, the mandates, powers, and governance arrangements of all central banks are established by law. They must comply with all the applicable law including the constitutional and international legal obligations of their home states. In principle this means that central banks are bound by the international human rights commitments of their sovereigns.

 

Historically, central banks have been able to avoid dealing with human rights issues. This is because the political leadership determines the price stability goal for the economy and then lets the central bank decide how to meet this inflation objective.

 

This arrangement suggests that the central bank’s independence is limited to the technical issues relevant to achieving the goal set by the government. In addition, it assumes, at least implicitly, that the social and environmental implications of the country’s monetary and financial goals are the government’s responsibility.

 

However, in reality central banking is not a purely technical function. For example, the social and environmental impact of its decision to change interest rates will vary depending on how it implements the decision. If the central bank decides to change interest rates through open market operations the social and environmental impacts will depend on which instruments it chooses to trade – and in what proportions. On the other hand, these affects will depend on the decisions of banks if it implements the decision by changing the reserve requirements or the interest rate it charges banks for short term loans.

 

There are some noteworthy examples. The central banks of Kenya, the Netherlands and the Federal Reserve Bank of San Francisco consider factors such as community development and financial inclusion in their stewardship of their financial systems. And the Dutch central bank now has a mandate to include sustainability in its decision making. The Chinese central bank has been authorised to take climate considerations into account in its monetary decisions.

 

Central bank operations, therefore, cannot avoid affecting human rights.

 

The human rights responsibilities

The unavoidable impact of central banking operations on human rights means that central banks have to develop a better understanding of their human rights responsibilities. The applicable law is the starting point. But the relevant law and jurisprudence is unlikely to provide detailed guidance on how central banks should interpret and implement their human rights responsibilities.

 

A good reference tool for the central bank is the UN Guiding Principles on Business and Human Rights. These principles stipulate that all businesses should have a human rights policy. The policy should be publicly available and should be applicable to all the business’s operations and decision-making.

 

The Principles also state that businesses should conduct adequate human rights due diligence before and during their decision making and implementation process. This requirement means that they should conduct human rights impact assessments of their proposed operations. They should also take steps to avoid or mitigate the identified adverse human rights impacts.

 

Central banks will face particular challenges in meeting their human rights responsibilities. Their instrument independence means that their human rights policy will need to be respectful of the central bank’s independence and its mandate.

 

At the same time, the central bank needs to be cognisant of the fact that its human rights policy may have implications for other state entities and for the country’s political leadership. These considerations complicate but do not render impossible the task of drafting a central bank human rights policy.

 

Their ability to conduct detailed human rights impact assessments will be complicated by the relative speed and discretion with which they must often operate. This does not, however, make it impossible for them to assess their impact on human rights. Instead, it suggests that central banks need to develop and maintain a sufficiently detailed general and ongoing understanding of the actual impact of their operations on human rights. This is so that they can make informed judgements about the likely effects of their proposed monetary decisions on specific communities.

 

This disaggregated approach should provide central banks with a detailed and nuanced understanding of how their policies actually affect different sub-groups of their society. By doing this it should enable central banks to determine the true costs and benefits of their policies and actions. This should improve their decision-making.

 

Conclusion

According to Bradlow this analysis demonstrates three key points. First, it is becoming untenable for central banks to avoid incorporating their human rights impacts into their decision-making and operations. Second, a human rights approach offers central banks a new tool for understanding the true costs and benefits of their operations. Third, central banks can meet their human rights responsibilities without compromising the independence they need to meet their monetary and financial responsibilities.

 

Danny Bradlow, SARCHI Professor of International Development Law and African Economic Relations, University of Pretoria


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E-Financial

FG Makes u-Turn on Bank Account Re-Registration

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Federal government on Friday apologised for asking all account holders in financial institutions in the country to re-register their personal details.

FG makes u-Turn on Bank Account Re-Registration

Recall that the federal government had on Thursday ‎ordered that all persons holding accounts across financial institutions and insurance firms should complete and submit self-certification forms to their respective financial institutions.

The notice issued by the government to that effect read, ‎“This is to notify the general public that all account holders in Financial Institutions (Banks, Insurance Companies, etc.) are required to obtain, complete, and submit Self – Certification Forms to their respective Financial Institutions.

“Persons holding accounts in different financial institutions are required to complete and submit the form to each one of the institutions. The forms are required by the relevant financial institutions to carry out due diligence procedures, in line with the Income Tax Regulations 2019.‎”

The directive raised eyebrows, as account holders already possessed Bank Verification Numbers.

Following widespread condemnation that trailed the directive, the Federal Government backtracked on Friday, saying the fresh guidelin‎e was not for all Nigerians.

The government attributed the development to misinformation.

The clarification issued by the government on Friday read, ‎“We apologise for the misleading tweets (now deleted) that went up yesterday, regarding the completion of self-certification forms by Reportable Persons. The message contained in the notice does not apply to everybody. ‎FIRS will clarify Nigerians on the objectives of the directive.”

Also on Friday, FIRS, in a statement posted on Twitter, explained that the guidelines were only for non-residents, as well as people paying tax in more than one country.

Parts of the FIRS statement read, “The Self Certification Form is basically to be administered on Reportable Persons, holding accounts in Financial institutions, that are regarded as “Reportable Financial Institutions” under the CRS.

“Reportable persons are often non-residents and other persons, who have residence for tax purposes in more than one jurisdiction or country.”

“The information that indicates an account holder is a resident for tax purposes in more than one jurisdiction, is expected to be available to Financial Institutions during account opening processes, for the KYC and AML purpose.”


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Stanbic IBTC Bank Disowns Lagos ATM Fraudster

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Stanbic IBTC Bank PLC has disowned Tope Olajide, 22-year-old fraudster arraigned for theft of customers deposits.

Stanbic IBTC Bank Disowns Lagos ATM Fraudster

The Bank said this in a statement on Wednesday.

The statement said: “The attention of the management of Stanbic IBTC Bank PLC has been drawn to news currently circulating in the media, about the alleged arraignment of staff of the Bank on charges bordering on the theft of customers deposits.

“The Bank would like to clarify that the defendant, a 22-year-old Tope Olajide, IS NOT, and was at no point in time an employee of Stanbic IBTC Bank PLC.

“The alleged culprit was apprehended around 7:30 am, on Thursday, 27 August 2020, by security operatives after he was exposed by CCTV footage using ATM cards he had allegedly stolen and converted, to make withdrawals from the accounts tied to the stolen ATMs.

“The CCTV footage also showed the alleged culprit pretending to assist customers at ATMs whilst also attempting to fraudulently dispossess the customers of their ATMs.

“He was subsequently arraigned before an Ikeja Magistrate Court on Monday, 14 September, for stealing the debit cards of two customers and using them to unlawfully withdraw the sum of N427,000.

“The Bank would also like to implore members of the public to be security conscious when conducting transactions at ATMs. Customers are advised to report any suspicious actions around them to security operatives who are usually stationed around the Bank’s ATMs, when carrying out transactions at any of our ATM locations.

“As an organisation, we hold dear the values of integrity, and we will continue to prioritise the safety of our customers effectively.”


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Buhari Okays Establishment of CBN-Led Infraco

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President Muhammadu  Buhari has approved the establishment of an   Infrastructure Company (Infraco) to be driven by the Central Bank of Nigeria (CBN) in partnership with the African Finance Corporation (AFC) and the Nigerian Sovereign Investment Authority (NSIA).

Buhari Okays Establishment of CBN-Led Infraco

Mr. Godwin Emefiele, CBN governor

This is coming  on the heels of the foreign reserves’ slump to $36 billion following a cocktail of monetary policy interventions by the apex bank to cushion the scathing effects of the COVID-19 pandemic on the economy.

Mr Godwin Emefiele, CBN governor, made these disclosures in Abuja at the annual conference of the Chartered Institute of Bankers of Nigeria (CIBN) with the theme: Facilitating a Sustainable Future: The role of Banking and Finance.

According to him, Infraco would enable the use of private and public capital to support infrastructure investment that will have a multiplier effect on growth across critical sectors.

“This entity would also be able to raise funds from the capital markets and mobilise long term finance to address some of our infrastructure needs, while providing reasonable returns to investors. “We believe this well-structured fund can act as a catalyst for growth in the medium and the long run. The support of the banking community will be important in achieving this objective.

“A well-built infrastructure system, comprising hard infrastructure such as roads and ports, and soft infrastructure such as broadband penetration, can have a multiplier effect on growth by enabling the expansion of business activities in the country”, he explained.

On foreign reserves, Emefiele attributed its crash to the decline in foreign exchange earnings and subsequent adjustments in the value of the naira to the dollar.


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