By Tracie Mugisha
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In October 2016, the Ugandan citizenry was pelted to shock by a Bank of Uganda announcement. They had taken over Crane Bank and immediately ordered for the suspension of the top management. What followed next were massive withdrawals as thousands of clients rushed to get hold of their deposits. The second-order effects of takeover were beyond expectations. Suddenly Bank of Uganda was trapped by its decisions.
In Economics, a term was derived; “iatrogenics” popularized by Nassim K Taleb the probability Guru and writer of Black Swan. Iatrogenics is simply a term used to describe harm that is done by the healer which is what the Central Bank did to Crane Bank.
From the start of the year, the bank had been posting profits. However, the effects of its written off Non-performing loans had caused some sort of liquidity crisis. The Central Bank hounded the owners of Crane Bank to recapitalize within a month or else face receivership. Sudhir Ruparelia, one of the owners requested that he be allowed at least 3 months to recapitalize. This was rejected by the Central Bank. He then requested that the Central Bank bails him out and he attaches his real estate properties to save the bank. Once again, BOU rejected this proposal.
In July, Crane Bank was stopped from offering any loans, letters of credit, bank guarantees just to mention but a few. As a result, the business community that always frequented the bank begun to shift house. They withdrew their money and opened accounts in other banks. It is no surprise that in the same month, despite having posted profits from the start of the year, the bank posted a loss having suffered all these effects. Then the rumours of businessmen withdrawing their money begun to circulate. Surely something was amiss at Crane Bank. Before long, the rumours were maturing on Social Media. Now, even the normal clients begun to withdraw their little money. Finally the bank was put under receivership further sinking it into an abyss of no-return. It was a black-hole for a Crane Bank.
On the day of the take-over thousands of the bank’s clients could be seen leaving the bank with bundles of cash. The Central Bank’s interventions had sunk Crane Bank.
But did the Central Bank really have to act? Did it realize that its naive interventionism was instead harming the bank and the economy at large?
In complex systems, small errors should be left to correct themselves. These small errors are ways in which complex systems achieve self-stability. Yet the Central Bank intervened in order to correct these small errors. And on top of this, broke the number one rule of Common Sense which states; “the law cannot be a substitute for common sense.”
Now Crane Bank is in a worse situation that it was. No investor would love to take on an already soiled entity. The customers have transferred to other banks and Crane Bank will need much more injections, thrice what it originally needed to recover. Already, tax payers have lost UGX 200 billion that has been injected by Government to save the bank. Still, the Central Bank doesn’t realize that its naive interventionism has also cost tax payers over 200 billion and will continue to cost them even more.
What was so hard about letting Crane Bank recapitalize over 3 months? Was it the only bank that was in such a dire situation? In hindsight, the Central Bank may have to eat a humble pie and accept its faults in failing to adjust its policies to the realities of the economy. It will also have to accept that the death of Crane Bank was entirely its responsibility. And one can only hope that in future they will learn to go slow on their naive interventionism. The blood of Crane Bank is marked on Bank of Uganda’s hands.
Note: Tracie Mugisha is a writer with CampusEye.ug.