In recent news, the President of the Republic visited the National Agricultural Bank (BNA) and raised concerns about unsecured loans amounting to “billions” allegedly granted to clients without proper guarantees. This revelation has ignited a debate about the bank’s management, potential lobbying pressures, and its funding priorities. In this article, we will delve into the details to uncover the truth behind these claims.
Examining the President’s Assertions
It’s crucial to begin by clarifying some misconceptions. The BNA is not a purely public bank, as suggested by the President, as the State only holds a 35.26% stake. The majority of the bank’s capital, approximately 64.74%, is privately owned and traded on the stock exchange.
The President’s claim of a 24-billion-dinar credit is highly questionable. The BNA’s total banking operating income for the year is around 1.798 billion dinars, making the alleged sum seem unrealistic. Furthermore, the President’s tendency to use millimes instead of dinars exaggerates the figures, creating a false impression of the magnitude of the issue.
Loans Without Guarantees – A Common Practice
The President’s astonishment at the concept of loans without guarantees is somewhat misguided. In the global banking industry, it is not uncommon for banks to extend credit without guarantees. This practice is vital for the smooth functioning of economies. In Tunisia, companies often receive credit without guarantees, usually up to 3-4 months of turnover. Similarly, individuals can obtain consumer loans over several years without providing collateral, as long as they are permanent employees with a bank domiciliation.
The Financial Health of the BNA
Contrary to the President’s concerns, an analysis of the BNA’s financial statements and auditors’ reports for 2022 indicates that the bank is in relatively good health. While it may not match the financial performance of banks like Biat or Attijari, it still managed to generate a net profit of approximately 159.251 million dinars in 2022, only a slight decrease from 163.145 million dinars in 2021.
However, it’s essential to note that the State poses a significant burden on the BNA’s operations. While the President vocally criticized the bank’s loans to companies and business leaders, he remained silent about the billions of dinars in credits extended by the BNA to public organizations. These loans lack any real guarantees and solely rely on the State’s backing.
The State’s Role in Debt
The State plays a substantial role in the BNA’s financial commitments. For instance, the Cereals Office owes the BNA approximately 4.768 billion dinars, a sum that increased by 21% between 2021 and 2022. This amount constitutes 27% of the total customer commitments on and off the balance sheet. Furthermore, several other public entities, including the Tunisian Petroleum Activities Company, the State Land Office, the Oil Office, Transtu, and El Fouladh, are indebted to the BNA, totaling 1.17 billion dinars.
The BNA has also assumed debts related to agricultural funding, as stipulated by the Finance Law. These debts amount to 90.4 million dinars (law 2013-54) and 14.95 million dinars (law 99-65) as of December 31, 2022.
Clarifying the BNA’s Role in Agriculture
Contrary to the President’s assertions, the BNA does indeed finance agriculture, as reflected in its financial statements and audit reports. The President’s claims of favoritism or nepotism in the provision of unsecured credits overlook the common industry practice where banks facilitate such loans.
Additionally, the President’s criticism of excessive interest rates is misdirected. Interest rates are determined by the Central Bank, which sets the key rate. The BNA’s margins are minimal and lag behind those of other commercial banks.
The Political Element
The President’s visit to the BNA, accompanied by an archive box of documents, appears to be driven by political motives and populism. His role as President does not include scrutinizing individual bank accounts, a violation of banking secrecy protected by law. Furthermore, his attempts to portray the bank as mismanaged do not align with its financial performance, as indicated by the bank’s audited reports.
In conclusion, while the President’s concerns about the BNA’s operations are noteworthy, they need to be examined within the context of broader financial dynamics. The bank’s financial statements and auditors’ reports provide valuable insights into its operations and financial health, which, despite some challenges, appear to be sound. It’s crucial to avoid sensationalizing claims and consider the complexities of the financial industry.