Sierra Leone’s credit unions gradually Improving – experts observe

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Kandeh Sesay: Sierra Leone Telegraph: 11 February 2020:

Four coaches from the Irish League of Credit Unions Foundation (ILCUF) on Friday 31st January 2020 ended a two-weeks coaching program, culminating in a two-day training of twenty-four leaders and staff of Cooperative Credit Unions in Sierra Leone, at the Young Men’s Christian Association Hall on Fort Street in Freetown.

During the closing ceremony, the Irish coaches observed that members of Credit Unions in Sierra Leone are enthusiastic to learn, and that after reviewing their work they ensured that their findings and recommendations are implemented, though gradually.

“The Irish League of Credit Unions in Sierra Leone (ILCUs) is doing a great job, especially the effective monitoring of the 28 Credit Unions in the country that are gradually improving. Credit Unions can make a very big difference in the lives of people. It is the poor man’s bank with reasonable interest. Traders are so happy that Credit Unions have helped them develop their businesses and get out of poverty. Some of them have built houses and educated their children through Credit Unions. People need access to credit,” the Irish team observed.

The team examined the minutes of meetings of Credit Unions, their accounts and other records, talked to directors and staff before writing and presenting their report. They pointed out that the Moyamba District Teachers’ Credit Union is first in terms of finance; and the ‘Tawopaneh’ Credit Union is leading in terms of membership.

The team also visited the Bo District Teachers’ Credit Union, Pujehun District Teachers’ Credit Union, Luawa Credit Union in Kailahun, Nyandeyama Credit Union in Kenema, Moyamba District Teachers, UPS and Tawopaneh Credit Union in Freetown.

During their visits to these credit unions, the team reviewed their operations and risks to enhance professionalism, and to ensure that they are growing strong financially, and with new policies in place. Speaking about their experiences in Ireland, they said that Credit Unions in Ireland, some of which are 50 years old, also made mistakes in their early stages.

The need to identify and be more aware of risks, improve system of control, financial management, credit control, saving first, building relationships, and the need for members to be credit worthy were some of the topics covered during their visits.

Speaking on behalf of the team, Timothy O’ Sullivan of the Center for Cooperative Studies, University College, Cork in Ireland and Barry Treacy, said that they lecture credit control and collection of loans. They also mentioned that the Government of Sierra Leone, through the Cooperative Department in the Ministry of Trade and Industry, is reviewing the obsolete Cooperative Act; and underscored that there are a lot of regulations governing Credit Unions in Ireland.

They said that due to harsh economic conditions in Ireland 50 years ago, when banks were reluctant to give out loans, Credit Unions were formed to help the poor. They encouraged Sierra Leoneans to learn to save and serve as volunteers in Credit Unions, where they would learn new skills in professional services.

The team also made presentations on governance, supervisory management, accountability, management of finances, and establishing the needs of members.

They said that they are optimistic that one day Sierra Leone would export its knowledge on Credit Unions to other countries, recalling that Ireland also learnt from coaches from Canada and the United States and that Credit Unions are one big family designed to help each other.

The team also mentioned that they also held discussions with officials of the Cooperative Department, highlighting the need for Sierra Leone to embark on aggressive marketing and sensitization on Credit Unions in the country, as well as the need for building trust.

They showcased successful members of Credit Unions as Ambassadors, and said that their experiences in Sierra Leone have been very interesting, and have enjoyed the learning process.

The team went on to state that they are in Sierra Leone to also learn from Credit Unions in the country, but that there are a lot of similarities between Credit Unions in Sierra Leone and Ireland. Credit Unions they said, are the same the world over.

Speaking about share account and accounting principles, they said that unlike Sierra Leone where manual accounting methods are still being used, Credit Unions in Ireland are computerized, using online banking, issuing debit cards, and offering full banking services to their members.

They reported that 75% of the population in Ireland are members of Credit Unions that are non-religious and political. People in Ireland they said, have a lot of trust in Credit Unions than even banks; adding that, if the operations of Credit Unions in Sierra Leone are computerized, people adequately sensitized about the advantages of Credit Unions and imbibe the savings culture, it would help to transform their lives.

Other members of the Irish team were; Mr. George Hamilton – Manager of Cootehill Credit Union, and Ms Julie Monaghan – Risk and Compliance Officer of the New Rose Credit Union.

According to ILCUF Ltd General Manager – Mr Mwongyere Solomon, this coaching program started four years ago, when leaders and staff of Credit Unions in Ireland travelled to Sierra Leone for two weeks – visiting Credit Unions in the country, review their operations, governance, policies, financial management and procedures, and shared their experiences with their Sierra Leonean counterparts.

The team from Ireland facilitates workshops involving Credit Union leaders and staff in Freetown. Sierra Leoneans have gained a lot from the program. Credit Unions in Sierra Leone started in 2011, and currently there are 28 credit unions in the country, with a total of 10,088 members who collectively have Le 7,100,000,000 in shares and savings. Members have borrowed up to Le 6,200,000,000.

Credit Unions are changing the lives of their members. The Irish League of Credit Union Foundation Ltd together with the National Cooperative Credit Union Association Sierra Leone (NACCUA) are promoting the credit union movement in Sierra Leone, with support from Irish Aid and Credit Unions in Ireland.

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