Gov’t Probes Fund Managers for US$921 in Risky Investments

Ghana’s financial-markets regulator is investigating money managers for locking up as much as 5 billion cedis ($921 million) in risky investments they’re struggling to retrieve for clients.

The funds are stuck in short-term unlisted bonds, direct private-equity stakes and related-party deals for small- and medium-sized businesses, said Paul Ababio, deputy director-general at the Securities and Exchange Commission. With efforts to retrieve the money proving futile, the SEC is starting forensic audits to determine how to retrieve money for investors, which may include selling off the fund managers’ assets, he said.

“If part of their portfolio is distressed, we have to understand it to know what solution to deploy,” Ababio said in an interview in Accra. “We’ll look at what can be done for investors — we’ll look at liquidation.”

Cleaning up the nation’s 25 billion-cedis fund management industry became necessary after a recapitalization exercise by the central bank exposed weaknesses in the system. While the drive strengthened the banking industry and reduced the number of lenders by almost a third, the early stages of the program spurred panicked withdrawals from depositors trying to access their savings, drying up liquidity among fund managers.

Twenty one firms are being audited, which will be completed by the end of the year, Ababio said.

In all, 9 billion cedis was reported by fund managers as being tied up, of which 4 billion cedis was held in Treasury bill-linked instruments with banks, savings and loans companies or microlenders, he said.

After setting aside 11.2 billion cedis to bailout the banking industry and 925 million cedis to rescue microlenders, the government plans to invest at least 3 billion cedis to help savings and loans companies, the finance ministry said in April. The funds will be used mainly to ease pressures from investments linked to T-bills, Ababio said.

SEC rules forbid fund managers from directly underwriting corporate debt or taking straight private-equity positions, even though they can lend to businesses through reputable financial institutions and invest in a private-equity firm, which then acquires stakes in companies, Ababio said.