Should Georgian National Bank be Stripped of Supervision Function?

There are active debates ongoing about the Bill of Amendments to the Organic Law on the National Bank of Georgia (NBG). The main question is whether the supervision function it currently provides needs to be removed from the NBG or not. The topic became very real upon registration of the Bill by the Budget and Finance Committee in the Parliament of Georgia, on May 21 which is aimed at creating a fully independent supervisory authority.

No specific motive is mentioned in the Explanatory Notes to the Bill regarding what had pushed them to initiate division of the institution. The only purpose admitted is that there are many examples from abroad where independent supervision authorities are functioning successfully; therefore, the same model should be applied here.

But what would this change mean for the economic life of the country? Does this model represent the best international practice in the field? And what are the risks associated with the enactment of the bill?

Since the argument in support of separating the supervision from the NBG is based on foreign practice, it would be better to start from this point. In the Explanatory Notes to the initial version of the Bill, 10 European countries are cited as successful examples of separate or mixed supervision models. Those were Denmark, Belgium, Luxembourg, Finland, Ireland, Sweden, United Kingdom, Austria, Germany and France. However, this was in the last decade. Now, after the separation of the supervision failed, 9 out of the 10 mentioned countries have implemented counter-reform and the other (Sweden) is planning to do so. It should be noted that the supervision function is under the Central Bank (Central Reserve System) in the US as well.

As for the European Central Bank (ECB), it openly supports keeping the supervision function within the frames of National Banks (NBs). The ECB has even increased the quality of banking supervision through creating the single banking supervision mechanism at community level (Source: Directive 2002/87/ec of the european parliament and of the council; 16/12/2002). The position is based on long experience accumulated in this field of securing financial stability. The global and Eurozone financial crisis of 2008-2009 has clearly revealed flaws in the banking supervision performance and confirmed an advantage of keeping the function within the NBs (Source: European Central Bank, Recent Developments in Supervisory Structures in the EU member states. Report 2010). The crisis has led to changing the trend, which was started in the 2000s in Europe in the opposite direction; the countries that stripped the supervision function from NBs a few years ago started to implement counter-reform. In 25 out of 28 cases, the NBs have regained the prerogative of banking supervision or their role has been significantly strengthened. This was the result of research, which showed that absence of supervision from NBs prevents them from implementing their ultimate task – to secure monetary policy and maintain financial stability. The crisis has clearly demonstrated that the NBs are not able to adequately respond to financial turmoil occurring in the country without having access to financial market supervision, because the lack of information disables NBs which struggles to make well-advised decisions about market interventions. In addition, the existence of a supervision function within the frames of the NBs secures institutional strength and high quality of political independence of both authorities, which is directly proportional to the quality of contribution they make to the financial stability of the country.

Today, in the overwhelming majority of EU countries, regulating and supervisory authorities for banking supervision are within the NBs (except Latvia, Poland and Malta) or are strongly engaged in this activity (Source: Basel Committee official web, regulating and supervising authorities database). Apart from national supervision, the ECB also takes part in banking supervision within the Eurozone, including in countries whose NBs do not have such a function (Source: ECB, Guide to Banking Supervision. November, 2014). Accordingly, the provision stated in the Explanatory Notes states that the reform is dictated by the best international practices, yet it does not correspond to the reality. On the contrary, it is at odds with the recommended position of the ECB regarding the supervision and experience of the EU countries. Moreover, the decision contradicts best practices, as it is not consistent with the Basel Committee “Core Principles for Effective Banking Supervision”, which is acclaimed to be the guide for drafting the best supervisory policy.

We need to admit that the Bill violates the EU-Georgia Association Agenda 2015; Section 2, Paragraph 2.5. According to the agreement, review of law related to the NBG needs to be conducted based on EU expertise and involvement of the ECB. In the Extraordinary Notes to the bill, it is written that no external involvement has been secured.

When discussing the case of Georgia we need to consider that we have had a similar experience in the recent past. The supervision function was stripped from the NBG in 2008 and returned the very next year. The change was a reflection of the processes developing in the world; just like other countries, we have also faced the negative economic consequences of separation of these two functioning bodies. It is interesting to ponder what has triggered the desire to go through the same misleading path instead of seeking effective ways to deal with the real economic challenges, especially today when the country’s economy is in a really difficult condition.

Moreover, according to the Constitution of Georgia, the NBG is an independent institution which is responsible for conducting the monetary policy, ensuring price stability and contributing to the soundness of the financial sector (Sources: The Constitution of Georgia, Article 95). The possibility of NBG fulfilling its constitutional duties will become questionable if the supervision function is removed. At the same time, since the change is politically motivated and its goal is to establish control over the financial sector through supervisory activity; the amendment would weaken the independence of the NBG. This suspicion was derived from the provision of the Bill, according to which the Government would take an absolute majority of seats in The Supervisory Council (5 members out of 7 will be Government nominated candidates). Another debated issue is the exclusive right of the Parliament of Georgia to dismiss the head of the Supervisory Council as the criteria for dismissal is very vague.

As mentioned above, the Georgian economy and banking sector is facing big challenges. The reasons are multifold, but mostly they originate from external economic factors, such as: processes on international markets, which led to strengthening of the US dollar against all major currencies, including the Georgian currency (GEL); very tense and complex geopolitical situation in the region; decrease in exports and remittances from 2 major trade partners of Georgia. In such conditions, putting additional stress on the NBG from the government, dividing its functions based on the suspicion that NBG might be doing something wrong, will be very harmful. It will decrease the chances of overcoming the crisis, increase microeconomic risks and weaken the process of economic growth. According to the recent data, there is a reduction in the country’s long-term lending, as well as deposit growth rate. It is expected that there will be a necessity to attract additional capital for the banking system. The situation on the international capital markets is tough in this direction, especially for developing countries. Creating additional uncertainties in terms of banking supervision will result in difficulties for private banks to attract money from investors. This will limit the possibility of lending and increase bank liquidity risks. Moreover, having supervision under the umbrella of the NBs is considered to be more reliable for investors, since in this case fewer state bodies are involved in the monitoring of confidential information.

The bill of amendment to the Law on NBG was negatively assessed by the leading International Financial Institutions (IFIs). The International Monetary Fund (IMF), the European Bank for Reconstruction and Development (EBRD), the Asian Development Bank (ADB) and the World Bank (WB), have drafted an unprecedented joint letter, which was sent to the Prime Minister of Georgia, Irakli Garibashvili and the Speaker of the Parliament of Georgia, David Usupashvili. With this letter, they called on the Georgian authorities to leave the supervision function within the frames of the NBG. Their deep concern derives from the expertise that at this stage of economic development of the country, with limited human capital in the field of finances, it is better to maintain the existing format of financial supervision. They also saw the threats in the proposed amendment due to the lack of a supportive argument to make those changes. Moreover, when according to the last financial assessment record, conducted by the FSAP program in 2014 (Source: FSAPCountry Report No. 15/7), the NBG has received very high evaluation and praise. The report emphasizes that the approaches of the NBG are representing the best practices, which could constitute an example for other developing countries as well. Neglecting the recommendations of the IFIs, which are the largest investors for the country, is irrational and harmful behavior, which will be reflected in the international attitude towards our country in the long-run.

In conclusion, usually NBs are the first targets for criticism from government authorities when there is an economic downfall, inflation and devaluation. Nevertheless, they are afraid to enable accumulation of too much power under the National Banks, which can be obtained from having both regulatory and supervisory powers. The risk might be real, but fragmentation is not the best solution to avoid it. The government authorities need to elaborate and introduce strong Check-and-Balance mechanisms. However, it shouldn’t happen at the expense of compromising the strength of the country’s most important institutions, especially when it comes to the institution, which is in charge of the country’s national wealth and financial stability, and whose successful work is recognized by the leading IFIs.

Nato Chakvetadze

13 August 2015 23:02