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Friday, 12 August 2016

Kenya: Lenders want new law for Islamic financing

Experts want Central Bank of Kenya to set separate regulations for Islamic banks to avoid operation and auditing challenges.

Prof Abdullatif Essajee, currently the CEO and Islamic Finance lecturer at Vision Institute of Professionals, has said Islamic banking has key differences from conventional banks and the two cannot be effectively regulated using the same framework.

 Former Managing Director at First Community Bank (FCB) and now a director at the same bank, Essajee said that most of the time, the external auditors differ with Islamic banks on presentation of several transactions in financial books.

 “We have reporting standards for Islamic banks but because the regime does not allow that, we have not fully embraced the substance of Islamic banking. 

The Islamic standards cannot change the fundamentals of reporting but could have enhanced the quality of reporting,” said Essajee. For instance, Islamic banks, where charging interest is prohibited, avoid terminologies such as interest income and instead go for financing income yet in their books, they are forced to use the term. 

The matter has been complicated by absence of CBK Sharia Supervisory Board that is supposed to keep in check the activities of Islamic banks. Essajee pointed out countries like Malaysia, where each bank has its own Sharia-compliant board that is answerable to a similar board by central bank.

In Kenya, despite the first Islamic product coming to the market a decade ago, the audit practice leans to the practices of conventional banks. 

According to Essajee, most of the high non-performing loans displayed on the financial statements of banks offering more Sharia-based loans, are due to differences in the practice of Islamic products and conventional products. 

“For example, in conventional banking, when financing a construction, banks can demand for payment even before construction is up. That cannot happen in Islamic banks yet when auditors come, they say ‘You issued a facility at this time and it is now almost 90 days and there is no payment so we need to downgrade it,” he explained. 

During his helm at FCB, he added, not so many auditors who came for the auditing process could succeed in borrowing from both conventional and Islamic practices. Under Islamic banking law, most lending is directed to a specific project and is premised on utmost good faith.

 Therefore, where the borrower delays paying yet he invested in a project he or she pre-agreed with the bank and is yet to be paid, Islamic banking laws cannot move to penalise the borrower.

 “It is not a matter of being soft, it is being ethical. If I (Islamic bank) gave you money to build road and the payer is another person and you haven’t been paid, how do I come to touch your property yet we need to work together to get paid?”

 he asked. This may shed light on the increased gross non-performing loans (NPLs) in some lenders that have embraced Islamic products. Half-year results released by NBK, which is one of the lenders with Islamic products, show that gross NPLs moved from Sh16.9 billion to Sh27.3 billion in just three months.

(Standard Digital / 12 August 2016)
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