THE Zimbabwe division of international banking group Barclays has bowed to increased pressure from Empowerment Minister Saviour Kasukuwere, agreeing to start implementation of the contentious indigenisation policy.
Barclays Bank Zimbabwe MD George Guvamatanga and Kasukuwere met earlier this week and agreed on the implementation of the bank’s compliance plan, starting with the transfer of a significant portion of shares to employees.
The contentious policy, which is being spearheaded by Zanu PF ahead of polls likely this year or early next year, seeks to compel foreign firms to cede majority stakes to black Zimbabweans.
Guvamatanga could not divulge details of the agreement reached under pressure to comply with the empowerment policy.
But South Africa's Business Day newspaper reported Friday that Barclays had agreed to "empower its employees" as part of the process to comply with the legislation.
"Barclays can confirm that the meeting took place but the contents remain private and confidential as there are still further discussions," said Guvamatanga.
He said that the meeting was only one of a series of engagements between Barclays Zimbabwe and the empowerment ministry "regarding the implementation" of the law.
A corporate executive with knowledge of developments around Barclays Zimbabwe’s proposed indigenisation compliance plan said Kasukuwere insisted during the meeting that Guvamatanga commit to empowering the bank’s employees before other aspects of the compliance plan were finalised.
"There are still some areas of disagreement but this week the two (Kasukuwere and Guvamatanga) agreed that Barclays should roll out its employee empowerment scheme faster and move onto the other areas that are yet to be agreed on.
"What is emerging from Kasukuwere’s approach with the banks, however, is different from the approach he used with the mines; he seems to be a bit cautious and careful," said the bank executive.
Kasukuwere said the meeting with Guvamatanga on Tuesday "had been fruitful" from the government’s perspective.
"In general we agreed to reorganise the ownership structure of the bank…. Employees will benefit significantly," Kasukuwere said.
This comes against the backdrop of differences between Kasukuwere and central bank governor Gideon Gono over indigenisation of the banking sector. Gono last week warned Kasukuwere "not to come near my banks".
Both are from President Robert Mugabe’s Zanu PF party, and political observers said that the war of words that erupted between them highlighted the sharp policy inconsistencies and divisions in the party, despite its efforts to show unanimity on the matter.
Gono favours a "gradual approach" to indigenisation, and insisted this week that the Reserve Bank of Zimbabwe’s stance would remain so, to avoid "untold consequences".
Johannes Kwangwari, an economic analyst, said that the move by the government to target banks for indigenisation "spells disaster for the sector".