Monday, December 24, 2012

Oman gov't to consider sovereign sukuk

According to Reuters, Oman's government may be planning to issue sukuk to function as liquidity management instruments, which is especially needed for the new Islamic banks because the banking laws (PDF) specifically--and quite forcefully--prohibit any use of tawarruq by Islamic banks.  
Commodity Murabaha or Tawarruq, by whatever name called, is not allowed for the Licensees in the Sultanate as a general rule.  

It is not entirely unexpected to me that the government appears to be relenting and realizing that it needs to offer an alternative.  A government sukuk (issued either by the Central Bank or the Ministry of Finance) would give Islamic banks a place to park a share of their assets that would be viewed under capital rules as safe, and potentially serve as a liquidity buffer that still generates a return for the bank. 

While the development of a government sukuk is definitely a positive, it is up to the Central Bank to designate alternatives to interbank financing (wakala is permitted and is used elsewhere alongside tawarruq).  One key need is a way to provide lender of last resort financing, and a system of Shari'ah-compliant deposit insurance. 

The former could be addressed through Islamic repurchase agreements; however, the structure in use currently is essentially a secured commodity murabaha financing agreement.  In cases where the bank's survival is threatened, there are exceptions that allow for its use for no more than three months:

The only exception may be a real emergency situation defined as follows: If a Licensee's survival is genuinely threatened, or in case of a conventional bank's conversion into Islamic where no alternative mechanism exists to convert part or all of its portfolio, as determined by the bank's SSB.  In such situations and on a case to case basis the Central Bank may allow the use of CMT after the approval of the respective Shari'a Supervisory Board on a one-off basis for a specified time period no longer than three months.  Roll over in such CMTs or changing the price is not allowed under any circumstances.  
On the second issue of deposit insurance, I was not able to find specific reference in the banking rules, but presumably there is only conventional deposit insurance available, though it is not clear whether Islamic banks would be required to participate in the deposit insurance fund (this is generally allowed where the laws mandate participation in the deposit insurance funds).  However, this is not likely to be an immediate concern, though it should remain as a future issue to be dealt with. 

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