Cooperatives Union to crack down on embezzlers

James Nkubito is in charge of promotion and branding of cooperatives at Rwanda Cooperative Agency. Michel Nkurunziza

Rwanda Cooperative Agency has vowed to pursue embezzlers of revenues in about 261 farmers’ potatocooperatives. 

The decision follows a study conducted by the National Cooperatives Confederation of Rwanda (NCCR) and an audit by Rwanda Cooperative Agency which revealed many issues derailing the organisations.

James Nkubito, in charge of promotion and branding of cooperatives at Rwanda Cooperative Agency told Sunday Times that 261 cooperatives across the country but were dissolved or merged into 116 cooperatives under the current reforms.

An audit by Rwanda Cooperative Agency (RCA) revealed that leaders and accountants of the cooperatives embezzled over Rwf61 million in only seven months in 2018.

Due to cooperatives’ mismanagement, reforms including merging the cooperatives were undertaken.

“The merging happened as result of reforms in farmers’ cooperatives so as to eliminate mismanagement and bad leadership, embezzlement, and middlemen who had been exploiting farmers by devaluing prices. Besides the reforms, those who had embezzled cooperatives’ revenues will be investigated and punished,” he said.

Mismanagement of Irish potato cooperatives could affect national production if not controlled.

Being part of six crops of priority under crop intensification programme, over 2.3 million tonnes of Irish potatoes are produced annually on 50,000 hectares (5 per cent) of the whole national tillable l land in Rwanda.

This produce, figures show, equals to 10 per cent of the whole agricultural produce in general.

In order to maximize the production, experts say, there is need to mobilize more Irish potato farmers to join cooperatives since only 54 per cent of them are in cooperatives, so far.

Other issues highlighted by the study include lack of storage technologies which could save farmers from selling at giveaway prices.

Empowering farmers’ cooperatives

Nkubito said that Agro Processing Trust Cooperation Ltd (APTC) was also recently removed from potato trading chain so as to empower farmers’ cooperatives.

The company was being blamed for delaying to pay farmers despite having been supplied and hidingmiddlemen who undervalue Irish potato prices, among others.

“Today farmers cooperatives are benefitting from their rights as we are striving for building their capacity and later give them space to build themselves according to the new policy approved in August in 2018,” he said.

He said that Irish potato farmers’ cooperatives will have to always get involved in fixing prices for their produce and will be able to supply their produce to market without exploitation of middlemen.

 An assessment revealed that despite being merged, government is still trying to handle issues that originated from the former cooperatives such as embezzlement and loan defaults.

“Handover between former cooperatives and merged cooperatives is still underway due to such issues. We have also to detect middlemen who are still resistant and punish them,” he noted.

Nkubito said that under the reforms, Federations and Unions were closed together with their bank accounts saying that this was a way to prevent their leaders from profiting to plunder the accounts.

Unions are made of three or more cooperatives while Federations are of three or more unions in the chain of cooperatives structure.

However, he said, they will elect new leaders so as to help coordination of cooperatives’ activities.

So far, he added, professional accountants with university degrees have been recruited in the merged cooperatives so as to ensure better management of financial flows.