The commercial banks in Uganda, largely multinationals, having lost Crane Bank and National Bank of Commerce under very controversial circumstances recently feel like a coveted old boys club of an ivy League school with all the trappings of money, connections and power at their disposal to use as they wish.
They bring down whoever they wish and propel up whoever they feel like with their big money, protection in favourable laws and the guarantor of their security Bank of Uganda also the regulator of the sector.
With little or no power to demand for fairness and equity given the fact that the individual Bank customer and borrower has not been unionised, they can hardly stand up against the old boys’ like cartel of commercial banks. Closely knit together by a powerful industry association in Uganda Bankers Association that on the other side will come out to defend the banks vehemently whenever their interests feel threatened in any way in spite of the fact that the balance of power is already so tilted in their favour, banks in Uganda have really had a smooth ride mistreating consumers.
With a free market economy in place and its fervent believers controlling policy and key decisions in the central bank and finance Ministry, the consumer has always been at the mercy of God with interest rates and banking fees swinging upwards at will ensuring the banks take in huge profits easily at the expense of everyone else.
Change is coming!
However, the free wheelers and big pay cheque earners in the mega profit making banks might be in for a rude shock very soon as one of the fastest rising young tycoons in the city Hamis Kiggundu has decided he wants to end this impunity. A brave step it is and surely a sigh of relief for many an aggrieved bank customer.
Hamis Kiggundu a man of many firsts at his tender age some not so clean at that, just may save the Ugandan bank customers especially borrowers from the hegemony, bigotry and impunity banks have subjected them to for ages.
Kiggundu recently took one of the old trusted banks in town Diamond Trust Bank Limited to court over money totalling to 120 billion shillings he says disappeared mysteriously from his accounts over his 10 year relationship with this bank something many bank clients in this country have experienced in much smaller amounts and keep grumbling about minus taking any step to challenge the wrong.
Diamond Trust Bank claims Hamis Kiggundu is playing smart having failed to honour some of his debt obligations to them something the young tycoon disputes and has even lined up current and former employees of the bank to table evidence to back his case.
While Kiggundu claims he arrived at the 120 billion shillings missing figure after a professional auditor did the financial reconciliation for him, the court handling the case chose to have an independent neutral auditor have a second look at the accounts for an acceptable result to both parties as court evidence to start with.
The bankers association on one side is backing their own and insists the bank can do no wrong, Kiggundu is just trying to run away from his shortcomings they say which could also be true.
But if I may ask a few questions, does the Uganda Bankers Association ever try to appreciate the interests of its consumers and ensure they get equitable services from banks or that is none of their business?
May be it’s all about their members the banks being happy and the rest can go hang for all they care!
And then as an association of Ugandan bankers, what is it doing to ensure the interests Ugandans and Uganda comes first in an industry controlled largely by foreigners and foreign interests?
Enough of the questions but may be it’s time fellow Ugandans especially the banking public woke up and started asking the hard questions and pushing for a shake up of this ‘old boys’ club and it’s some what very guarded unpleasant ways!
Luckily thanks to the push of Kiggundu and a growing number of other enlightened borrowers, an association called the Uganda Borrowers Association whose purpose is to look out for their interests too is in final stages of formation and will help them bargain for better and protect them from some wanton banks I hope.
They are also planning to help those with real grievances against these banks have their issues sorted in court with the association’s assistance.May be when the association takes root and pushes real hard, interest rates will become more realistic, banking fees will come down too and banks won’t be in a rush any more to attach borrowers’ collateral at the slightest sign of default. It will not be a slave master relationship any more but a client service provider relationship because one man Kiggundu dared to dream that powerful banks can be taken on.
He believed it is possible and is opening the eyes of many in his ground-breaking court battle with DTB, may the courts deliver justice and may we ordinary Ugandans pick a leaf, take on the ‘old boys’ too and push for better where we need to. Not only in the banks but every where else too!
The author is a senior analyst and media strategist at consulting firm Brothers Intelligence LLC