Quell

The Central Bank
Bank of Ghana

Raaaaid. Kills insects dead! That is the advertising message of one of the insecticides on the market.  The rains will soon come, and we cannot afford to keep our drains choked. Choked drains have always been breeding ground for mosquitoes which drain our blood. You can imagine the feeling of discomfort and pain when sleep invites you after the hard and tiring day’s work only to be awoken by mosquito bites.

At least, the insecticides on the market come in handy to quell those mosquitoes which find their ways into our homes. That is the flip side of today’s conversation, but by the end of it, we would develop our own insecticides and christen it the Quellto flush out illegal financial services providers.

You would agree with me that in recent years, the banking sector has witnessed a sharp increase in the number of institutions operating in the sector. Indeed, the banks and the Non-Bank Financial Institutions (NBFIs) alike have spread all over the country with microfinance institutions being in the majority. While the main banks have not suffered much, at least for now, in terms of bad reputation, the microfinance companies, on the other hand, have a lot to do to win the publics’ confidence.

We have heard of many instances when customers of defunct microfinance companies lost their deposits. The recent case regarding the closure of the offices of the unlicensed Wyselink Microfinance, owned by the “anointed” man of God, Reverend Nhyira Baafi is still sucking the blood of innocent depositors like the mosquitoes.

If you are not aware of the closure of that company, then be informed that the Central Bank issued a notice informing the public that thecompany was operating in some parts of the country with a forged licence. If you are a customer of the company, the painful reality is that the relationship had been at your own risk since the regulator indicated should not be held liable for the lost deposits.

Notices

Before we identify the features of the special Quell insecticide, let us apprise ourselves with the routine activities in respect of the display of valid licences and notices. Over the years, it has been mandatory for financial institutions under the supervision of the Bank of Ghana to display such posters including the Certificate of Incorporation, Certificate to Commence Business at their premises. More often, the originals of these certificates are displayed at the head offices of the companies while the branches display the duplicates (photocopies).

With regard to the licensed microfinance companies, they are also required to display the approved logos in the name of their mother body-Ghana Association of Microfinance Companies(GAMC). As bankers, we also conduct regular snap checks to ensure the notices which require yearly renewals have been done to avoid incurring the wrath of the regulator during its routine on-site supervisory visits. Indeed, customers have always been advised to take notice of these certificates and bills on display to be sure that they are indeed, dealing with the registered financial institutions.

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But do customers take the time to establish the authenticity or otherwise of these notices before entering the banking relationship? The illiterate and the unsophisticated customers have not yet accustomed themselves to the formal intimidating outlooks of the banking halls let alone make further efforts to conduct the background checks on the companies. Their inability to do the necessary due diligence to help flush out the unlicensed ones, therefore, provides the fertile ground for unscrupulous individuals to exploit them through the establishment of questionable companies.

Having realised these operational pitfalls, the Central Bank itself developed strategies to deal with the situation. Every year, it revises and publishes the list of all the microfinance institutions in good standing at its website and in the state-owned newspapers. It is also worth recognising that the Bank deploys public education programmes throughout the country to sensitise people on the operations of (unlicensed) microfinance institutions.

It has recently promulgated the recourse mechanism in addition to call-centers to address the concerns of the public head-on. While all these are commendable and worth supporting to build confidence in the financial services sector, the fact that the Wyselink Microfinance had operated for a while (probably many months) in the three (3) regions (Greater Accra, Central and Western) before it was closed down reveals weaknesses in the system.

The Reverend- owner is reported to have gone into hiding and the search for him by the Police Service strongly supports my assertion that people can easily set up phoney microfinance companies and even operate them in the open but at the blind-side of authorities till that time when they are exposed.

The imposters use the fake licences to milk the vulnerable depositors on Mondays, tear up their Tuesdays, make them feel weary after their toils on Wednesdays, toss them on Thursdays, freeze their sales proceeds on Fridays and starve them of income for Saturdays. Sundays when we should expect them to allow these victims to seek solace from the Lord, they end up syphoning them dry of their last earnings. That is the extent to which people establish the vicious cycle in the microfinance sector to dupe, sting and suck, and then leave the innocent depositors in sorrows.

My favourite Koko and waakye sellers and other traders only know of the spiders’ web. Websites and the print media are not on their dials to check the status of Wyselink and the rest. This, therefore, calls for the need to improve surveillance all over the country from the south to the north, and from the east to west to help crush the fake companies even before they take the first deposit.

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Surveillance

Anyway, have you seen the red marks with the inscription produce permit on or before that date… written on new structures in your area with the codes of a local assembly as soon as the construction works begin? I learnt some individuals sometimes write those codes to avoid the bureaucracy at the local authorities, but the eagle eyes of the assemblies’ agents in the communities spot them. The crux of the matter is that the assemblies have a well-coordinated system for supervision by using agents in town councils or sub-metros.

These agents have the duty to locate as much as possible new projects, businesses and other related activities going on in the districts and levy them. In fact, it has been established that these agents don’t concern themselves with the task of knowing whether companies have valid licences from the respective regulatory authorities. At best, they check on the Certificate of Incorporation and the Certificate to Commence Business. That they operate within their mandate, and don’t liaise with companies’ regulatory bodies provides the market for fake entities to mushroom.

Oh! Lalala! We can now establish our overarching surveillance system to protect the industry. Thus, the Bank of Ghana should have a strong collaboration (if this is not the current strategy) with the district assemblies (using their grassroots staff/agents) to pick intelligence through a network with the police to quell in all respects the activities of fake financial institutions as soon as they start their operations. Our special “quell” insecticide has really been manufactured. With the Quell as the insecticide, the notices as its features and our eyes on the surveillance, we can now spray on the unlicensed microfinance companies to quell them dead. Queeeeeeell! Kill the fake MFIs dead!

Before we part company for today, guess what happened when bankers were praying in the 400 million prayer-basilica the other day, all the air-conditioners were working at their utmost best, but can you believe it, a lot of people were deeply drained in sweats from head to toe.

Interesting times ahead oooo. Wampah Gh¢120k is still pending and now we have Addison Gh¢400k hurdle to clear.  Oh, deep in my heart. I know we shall overcome. Pete Seeger sings it better in the album “The Bitter And The Sweet”. We Shall Overcome. We shall overcome, some day.

                                  Blessed Times, God is with us

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