Plausible setbacks for the promotion of consumer rights in Rulindo districts: development partners set to find sustainable solutions
By Felibien H. Tuza.
Consumer protection is linked to the idea of consumer rights, and to the formation of consumer organizations, which help consumers make better choices in the marketplace and get help with consumer complaints.
The district of Rulindo, established strategic partnership with the Association of Microfinance Institutions in Rwanda (AMIR) in a bid to promote consumer protection for clients of microfinances in the district. According to AMIR officials this partnership is part of a four-year-project (RFL3) that AMIR is implementing across the country: Responsible Finance through Local Leadership and Learning Program (RFL3) was launched in December 2016. RFL3 is meant to scale the application of consumer protection principles for low income financial service customers. According to the Senior Programs Manager of RFL3, Mr. Straton HABYALIMANA, the Consumer protection principles are designed to allow customers to derive greater economic benefits from financial services while promoting trust and transparency in the sector.
In the struggle to identify all possible setbacks for the promotion of client protection principles in the District, Rulindo authorities convened technical meeting for debating on financial inclusion, financial services and strategic collaboration between the District and its development partners; financial service providers and clients. This meeting was attended by the district officials, AMIR, financial service providers operating in Rulindo district and clients including Village Savings and Loan/ Lending Associations (VSLAs) and different cooperatives.
The district officials revealed that the reason behind organizing such meeting was to bring together all Client Protection Actors in the district, to have common understanding on the client protection principles, challenges and setbacks so as to agree on the strategic and joint approaches to tackle the challenges related to promoting the culture of preserving consumer rights.
“…this time we want to focus much more on the demand side, the clients… we want to hear from them, expressing their views as far as consumer protection is concerned…” said by Mr. Prosper MULINDWA the vice mayor of Rulindo district in charge of economic affairs. He additionally highlighted that the clients views and feedback are sought to help the Client Protection Actors to set strategies to preserve the consumers’ rights.
According to the discussions held in the meeting, the following challenges are the main setbacks for Client Protection: the lack of knowledge and capacity related to client protection: lack of commitment in complying with Client Protection Principles (CPPs) – limited capacity to develop friendly products especially for VSLAs and cooperatives – MFIs/ SACCOs which have not been assessed. According to the development partners of the district, there must be a proactive action to prevent any possible setback for preserving the rights of microfinance clients. Mrs. Charity Kabarega UWASE, Responsible and Inclusive Finance Officer from AMIR, asserted that with the funding support from SEEP Network, AMIR is committed to engage stakeholders: districts through Access to Finance Forums, in order to address issues pertaining to client protection at community level.
“Our intervention to prevent any challenge to client protection while working with AFFs, will mainly focus on the following: Client protection and awareness on consumer rights – learning and exchange on consumer protection on best practices – monitoring and accountability mechanism for industry Code of Conduct – complaints resolution and coordination of efforts to implement consumer protection principles – enforcement” Mrs. Charity said.
The district and AMIR entered into partnership in May 2017, and have managed to:
- Conduct consumer protection and financial education awareness campaign across the district during the savings week and community work/ Umuganda: the total of 3000 target population has been reached;
- Training on consumer protection, Loan analysis, financial education and Code of Conduct for AMIR members;
- Strengthening the capacity of staff of Rulindo, and Access to Finance Forum (AFF) including Village Saving and Lending Associations (VSLAs) and cooperatives: in total 145 beneficiaries have been equipped with consumer protection and financial education skills.
The SEEP Network in collaboration with AMIR and the MasterCard Foundation, are leading RFL3 program. The ultimate goal for this program is to promote an enabling environment by facilitating collaboration amongst a wide range of private and public sector stakeholders.