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EDITORIAL: Punishment of lenders a positive step by regulator

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The Central Bank of Kenya. FILE PHOTO | NMG 

It may look as a mere administrative action by a regulator. But the Central Bank of Kenya’s (CBK) decision to sanction commercial banks that were used as conduits for illicit National Youth Service (NYS) millions is a defining step whose impact will be felt far and wide in the war against corruption and other economic crimes.

This is because throughout the world, governments have two big and effective weapons against illicit finance – the taxman and a clean banking system that make it difficult to move dirty money around.

The CBK’s move is the strongest signal yet that looters of public coffers and dealers in illicit goods will have limited options to ‘clean’ their dirty cash.

Punishing banks that facilitate theft or are used as laundries for dirty cash is the surest and the least costly method to close the taps of corruption, theft and dirty trade.

The CBK’s action is also one that if sustained over time has the potential to preserve the integrity of Kenya’s economy. For too long corrupt officials in both the public and private sectors have used banks to game the system for personal enrichment.

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In addition to the regulator’s action to slap hefty fines, the Banking Fraud Investigations Unit of the Directorate of Criminal Investigations (DCI) and the office of Director of Public Prosecution (DPP) must also move in to tighten the noose on banks by holding officials complicit in money laundering enterprise to account.

Banks are legally required to provide the regulator with a report on the latest results of its own money laundering risk assessment by the end of the year. The rules require banks to identify potential risks posed by customers, including use of shell companies, within their operations.

The next frontier in regulating movement of dirty cash should now involve curtailing flow of money between countries as corrupt officials will likely be forced to either stuff notes under their beds or take it to neighbouring jurisdictions with lax rules.

To this end, the CBK will have to collaborate with similar institutions outside the country to establish a wider-reaching supervisory framework.

Such an effort is under way in the European Union where legislators are seeking establishment of a common cross-border agency to check banks in the event central banks are unable to police lenders, a step that could be considered by East African authorities if they are to slay the corruption dragon once and for all.



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Home prices drop as land value increases

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Home prices drop as land value increases


Apartments in Makongeni, Thika. PHOTO | KANYIRI WAHITO | NMG

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Summary

  • Investors who froze investments in land at the peak of the Covid-19 economic crisis are slowly returning to the market on the improved business environment.
  • The sluggish price movement has hit property developers and land speculators while offering a bargain to real estate investors.

Land prices in Nairobi and the surrounding counties of Kiambu, Kajiado and Machakos have increased in the three months to March on the back of ongoing recovery from coronavirus hardships that failed to lift home prices.

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HassConsult, which conducts a quarterly property pricing index in Kenya, said on Monday that land prices increased 0.2 percent in quarter one — the fastest growth since the country reported the first Covid-19 case in March last year.

Investors who froze investments in land at the peak of the Covid-19 economic crisis are slowly returning to the market on the improved business environment.

But home prices remain subdued, recording a minimal drop of 0.07 percent in the period to March compared to a cut of 1.2 percent in the quarter ended December.

HassConsult has linked the price fall to an oversupply of homes amid reduced demand related to the Covid-19 economic fallout, which has led to job losses, pay cuts, closure of firms and cuts on bank loans and mortgages.

The price movements may look minimal, but the impact is reflected in the fact that land and home prices have recorded double-digit annual increases in recent years on increased demand for real estate.

The sluggish price movement has hit property developers and land speculators while offering a bargain to real estate investors.

Land prices rose fastest in surrounding satellite towns driven by Kenya’s growing middle class that cannot afford property in the capital.

“Overall land prices in the suburbs posted a modest 0.2 percent increase over the quarter while the satellite towns saw a

1.5 percent rise,” said Sakina Hassanali, head of property development consulting and research at HassConsult.

“While there is flattening of demand, this does not mean that demand is going to be low for long,” added Ms Hassanali.

HassConsult data shows that prices of land in areas such as AthiRiver, Juja, Mlolongo, Limuru and Ngong increased by between 0.8 percent and 6.07 percent.

The price of an acre in Ngong increased by the largest margin of 6.07 percent to Sh25 million in March from Sh23.7 million in December.

It rose 4.2 percent in Mlolongo to Sh29.8 million and 3.28 percent in Tigoni to Sh25.2 million.

The land prices boom in satellite towns has been driven by the appetite for home ownership by Kenya’s growing middle class.

The high appetite for property saw coffee plantations in Kiambu cleared to pave the way for gated housing estates and shopping centres.

An acre in Kiambu dropped 2.07 percent to Sh37.8 million while Kitengela recorded a 1.59 percent drop to Sh12.4 million.

Land prices in Nyari, Lang’ata and Gigiri rose by the biggest margin of 2.18 percent, 1.26 percent and 1.18 percent respectively in Nairobi.

An acre in Nyari rose to Sh107.9 million and Sh232 million in Gigiri, where the UN complex sits.

Donholm also recorded a price increase, with an acre rising 2.76 percent to Sh70.8 million.

But Riverside and Parklands defied the trend, with price drops of 1.69 percent to Sh338.1 million and 0.92 percent fall to Sh375 million respectively.

Upper Hill is listed as the costliest location, with an acre going for Sh511.2 million followed by Westlands at Sh421.7 million and Kilimani Sh415 million.

Housing has been one of Kenya’s fastest growing sectors over the past decade, fuelled by a growing middle class, with returns from real estate outpacing equities and government securities.

This fuelled a boom in land whose prices have increased nearly four-fold in Nairobi and surrounding satellite towns like Kiambu, Ongata Rongai and Kitengela.

The feverish rise in house and land prices has led to a bubble, setting the stage for multi-billion shilling loan defaults from property developers who had placed their bets on Kenya’s real estate.

Home prices in high-end estates shrugged off the bearish market to record marginal gains while houses in estates targeted by the middle class like Donholm and suburbs of Juja, Rongai and Kitengela recorded drops. Donholm, Juja, and Rongai homes fell 0.6 percent, 4.2 per cent and 1.5 percent respectively.

On average, the cost of homes in Muthaiga rose 2.6 percent, Loresho (2.8 percent) and 2.4 percent in Kileleshwa.

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AZA Finance Raises $20 Million in Funding

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Kenya-based fintech startup, AZA Finance, has raised $20 million in funding over the last 18 months. Furthermore, the firm has now expanded into South Africa with the acquisition of cross-border payments specialist, Exchange4Free.

Exchange4free is a foreign exchange, money transfer and payments technology provider that serves over 50,000 corporate and private clients worldwide. It is AZA’s second acquisition, which follows its acquisition of TransferZero, a Spain-based online money transfer platform, in 2018.

The acquisition makes AZA Finance the largest fintech provider of treasury and FX services to frontier markets. It will also enable it to almost double transaction volume to $2.5 billion in 2021 via synergies and leveraging cross-selling opportunities. It shall also enable the firm to extend its reach to 115 countries across Africa, Europe, the Middle East, Asia-Pacific and North America.

Exchange4Free’s innovative solution will go a long way in helping AZA Finance to build the digital infrastructure of the future, which brings innovation and efficiency to meet corporate treasury and FX needs in frontier markets.

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Elizabeth Rossiello, Founder and CEO of AZA Finance. 

The acquisition also enables AZA Finance to leverage Exchange4Free’s own platform for its services, which include its set of APIs that provide companies with treasury, FX, and regulatory compliance services they need to make cross-border payments into South Africa from more than 100 countries.  

AZA is a provider of currency trading solutions that accelerate global access to frontier markets using innovative infrastructure. By leveraging cutting edge technology in its flagship products, BFX and TransferZero, the firm is able to significantly lower the cost while increasing the speed of business payments to and from frontier markets. TransferZero is their B2B2C product, which provides both wholesale currency purchase and retail settlement via robust API. BFX is their B2B over-the-counter platform for businesses with wholesale currency needs, especially those paying partners and suppliers.

See Also:

Kenyan Insurtech Startup Lami Technologies Closes $1.8 Million Seed Funding

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Firm roots for PPPs in universal healthCARE

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General Manager of General Electric (GE) Health for sub-Sharan Africa, Eyong Ebai

The government has been urged to engage the private sector more in funding universal healthcare in the wake of Covid-19.

General Manager of General Electric (GE) Health for sub-Sharan Africa Eyong Ebai said the pandemic had demonstrated that governments alone cannot fund public health systems.

“There are two sides to the discussion and the first is in regards to supporting governments to create demand-side activity so there is appropriate funding that the supply side can then provide services to the general public,” said Mr Ebai in a recent interview. 

“On the demand side, we need to focus on instruments that can share risk and typically this will be in the form of health insurance programmes that can be national health insurance schemes like in Ghana, Nigeria and South Africa,” he added.

In the upcoming 2021/2022 budget, the National Treasury has allocated Sh121 billion to the Health Ministry, representing an increase of Sh3 billion from the current financial year that ends in June. 

Treasury has allocated another Sh47.7 billion for the universal healthcare plan, bringing the total allocation to the country’s health sector at Sh168 billion for the 2021/2022 financial year. 

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However, this represents 1.7 per cent of the country’s GDP and is below the international average spending for low-income countries that stood at 6.3 per cent as of 2019.

According to Ebai, governments can also tap into regional authorities through developing state or provincial-wide health insurance schemes that will directly benefit local communities, thus easing the pressure on central governments. 

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“The real trick for Africa is to tap into the informal sector as well as the formal sector,” he explained.

“This means everyone pays a small premium towards a pot which then goes towards providing coverage for individuals when they become unwell.” 

This is especially crucial as more than 80 per cent of patients on the continent still meet trig healthcare bills through out-of-pocket payments.

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