TWO ROBBERIES have hit two separate financial institutions based in the Southern Province in less than two weeks.
First to be attacked was the Buhanda branch of Banque Populaire du Rwanda (BPR) in Kinihira Sector, Ruhango District. The August 13 robbery, which occurred at around 7.30pm, left a cashier dead and Rwf4.6 million was stolen.
Just after a week, during the night of August 25, robbers hit again but this time targeting a Huye-based Umwarimo Savings and Credit cooperative (Umwarimu Sacco). The yet-to-be identified assailants killed an unarmed night guard and fled with over Rwf10.6 million in cash.
The recent attacks add to others that occurred in the preceeding months, including one on a sector-based Umurenge Sacco in Musange, Nyamagabe District, last December in which an employee was shot dead and around Rwf800,000 stolen while another attack on a BPR-branch in rural Nyanza was thwarted by Police earlier in May.
So many more plots to steal money especially from local savings and credits cooperatives (or Saccos as they are better known) have been foiled.
The series of robberies have raised concerns among the general public as to how safe their money.
Though some commercial banks have been the targets of robberies in the past years, observers warn that Saccos could become easier for thugs and armed bandits.
“You can’t guarantee total security to a bank which is protected by someone with a stick,” observed a secondary school teacher, who asked not to be named.
“These institutions (Saccos) are growing and as, they grow, they incrasingly keep larger amounts of money and people should know that they could easily be targets of bandits. Security should be tightened and guards given guns,” the teacher, a member of Umwarimu Sacco, said.
A visit to some of the Saccos, which were established to increase access of financial services, especially in rural areas, reveals the same image: almost all of them are guarded by unarmed individuals, mainly members of Local Defence Forces (LDF).
That the community microfinance cooperatives are guarded by unarmed personnel puts them under the threat of robbers, observers argue.
“It is clear we need armed guards,” Florence Uwabagabe, the Manager of Umwarimu Sacco, Huye branch, told The New Times two days after Rwf10.6 million was stolen from the cooperative.
“Until Sunday’s attack, we thought we were safe due to the prevailing security environment across the whole country. But it is clear that cases of robbery are on therise,” the official added.
According to Uwabagabe, the management of Umwarimu Sacco is studying the possibility of posting armed guards to all its branches across the country while other security measuers are also being discussed.
The rationale behind the establishment of Saccos was informed by the fact that commercial banks are more concentrated in urban areas and less present in rural areas.
And as such, it was believed that establishing a Sacco at every sector would bridge the existing gap and encourage citizens to save, access credit for various income generating activities, thus stimulating local development.
Indeed, since 2009 when the cooperatives were created, over 1.5 million people have transacted business with the over 400 sector-based Saccos, according to available figures.
Though officials insist there is a limited amount of cash that a Sacco can keep in its office as a precautionary measure, the recent attacks on some of them have proved that a lot still needs to be done to protect them.
This paper could not get the exact amount that Umurenge Saccos cannot exceed in their own coffers but officials from Umwarimu SACCO, a sister programme exclusively for teachers, said the cooperative can keep up to Rwf15 million.
In an interview with The New Times, the Deputy Director General of the Rwanda Cooperative Agency (RCA), Gilbert Habyarimana, said, however, that security measures have been taken to ensure that the cooperatives’ assets remain safe.
According to Habyarimana, every cooperative is required to have a safe room built with strong concrete and protected by metal cover in which the safe box is installed.
Other security features include putting metallic doors and windows on the Saccos offices and posting at least one guard a day and two during the nights to guarantee their security.
“We cannot be totally sure that all Saccos are complying with the security directives but we have started inspecting them,” Habyarimana said.
“Members of these cooperatives and their staff should know that they have the responsibility to guarantee Saccos security. They should be in a position to share any information that would help thwart any criminal activity,” he added.
“Preventing robberies and ensuring money safety is a collective responsibility.”
Police devise strategies
Speaking to The New Times, Police Spokesperson Assistant Commissioner of Police (ACP) Theos Badege said the Police will not rest until all individuals involved in the recent robberies are arrested and arraigned before the courtsof law.
ACP Badege said the Police are also devising a number of strategies to make citizens’ money safe.
“Recent robbery incidents have exposed gaps and we [security organs] are working with financial institutions to beef-up security,” ACP Badege said.
Measures include assessing and beefing-up security environment around banks, vetting banks personnel for criminal background, studying the capacity of private security companies, and considering the use of modern technologies to guarantee money security, he said.
If it becomes clear that arming guards at such facilities can help address the issue, then we will, ACP Badege noted.
“The ultimate goal is to make citizens’ money safe at all cost,” ACP Badege said.