By Theresa Kef
A two weeks coaching program by four coaches from the Irish League of Credit Unions Foundation (ILCUF) ended on Friday 31st January 2020 with training of 24 leaders and staff of Cooperative Credit Unions in Sierra Leone at the Young Men’s Christian Association Hall on Fort Street in Freetown at which ceremony they observed that members of Credit Unions in Sierra Leone are enthusiastic to learn and that after reviewing their work they ensure that their findings/recommendations are implemented although gradually.
“The Irish League of Credit Unions in Sierra Leone (ILCUs) is doing a great job, especially 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 team observed.
Among others, 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 Moyamba District Teachers’ Credit Union is first in terms of finance and Tawopaneh top 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 which they reviewed their operations and risks to enhance professionalism, that they are growing strong financially with new policies as they observed that Credit Unions in Ireland, some of which are 50 years old, also made similar mistakes in their early stages.
The need to identify more awareness on risks, improve on their system of control, financial management, credit control, saving first, building relationships and the need for members to be creditworthy were some of the topics covered.
On behalf of the team, Timothy O’ Sullivan of the Center of Cooperative Studies, University College Cork, Coke, Ireland and Barry Treacy enlightened that they lectured credit control, collection of loans, 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 disclosing 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 and encouraged Sierra Leoneans to learn to save and serve as volunteers in Credit Unions where they would learn opportunities for professional services.
The team also made presentations on governance, supervisory committee, accountability to members, management of finances, establishing the needs of members and 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 to help each other.
They continued that they also held discussions with officials of the Cooperative Department, highlighted the need for Sierra Leone to embark on aggressive marketing and sensitization on Credit Unions in the country as well as the need for trust that is key, showcase successful members of Credit Unions as Ambassadors and informed that their experiences in Sierra Leone are amazing and have enjoyed the process.
The team went on to state that they are here to also learn from Credit Unions in Sierra Leone, that there are a lot of similarities between Credit Unions in Sierra Leone and Ireland, that Credit Unions are the same the world over citing the share account and accounting principles but that unlike Sierra Leone that is still using manual methods, Credit Unions in Ireland are computerized, doing online banking, debit cards and offering full banking services to their members.
They said 75% of the population in Ireland is members of Credit Unions that are non-religious and political, that people have a lot of trust in them 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 team were Mr. George Hamilton, Manager of Cootehill Credit Union and Ms Julie Monaghan, Risk and Compliance Officer of New Rose Credit Union.
According to ILCUF Ltd General Manager, Mr Mwongyere Solomon, coaching program started four years ago where leaders and staff of Credit Unions in Ireland travel to Sierra Leone for two weeks, they visit Credit Unions in the country, review their operations, governance, policies in place, financial management and procedures and share their experiences with Sierra Leoneans counterparts. They facilitate workshops to CU leaders and staff in Freetown. Our people have gained a lot from the program.
Credit Unions in Sierra Leone started in 2011; currently there are 28 credit unions in the country with 10,088 members who 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) is promoting the credit union movement in Sierra Leone with support from Irish Aid and Credit Unions in Ireland.