Umunyamakuru Sacco: How feasible is the plan?

The Media Owners Forum (MOF) and Media High Council (MHC) are jointly working on a project to establish a Savings and Credit Cooperative for media practitioners.
Journalists cover a past event in Kigali. File.
Journalists cover a past event in Kigali. File.

The Media Owners Forum (MOF) and Media High Council (MHC) are jointly working on a project to establish a Savings and Credit Cooperative for media practitioners.

They say the cooperative, dubbed ‘Umunyamakuru Sacco’ will help tackle poverty among media practitioners some of whom have no contracts with their employers while others don’t get their salaries on time.

However, some journalists say the proposed Sacco will not be financially sustainable and won’t be profitable to the media fraternity until issues of salary irregularities are fixed.

The idea to put in place such a cooperative was inspired by the success of Umwalimu Sacco, MHC’s Executive Secretary Peacemaker Mbungiramihigo told Saturday Times.

“We have noticed good practices from Umwalimu Sacco which has been empowering teachers in terms of improving their welfare,” he said.

The idea was conceptualised during a civic education programme, Itorero, for journalists, according to Mbungiramihigo with view “to overcome challenges media practioners are facing in terms of sustaining their media outlets.”

Different bidders have already submitted technical offers to conduct the feasibility study of the Sacco, but media owners are yet to sit down and decide who is most qualified.

“We expect from the feasibility study to have a deep analysis on how this Sacco could be viable, its business plan, financial sustainability, institutional structure etc,” Mbungiramihigo said.

With Umunyamakuru Sacco, they will only have to pay their monthly contributions to be eligible for loans, according to the Chairman of Media Owners Forum, Charles Nkuriza Kakooza.

“There will be developmental loans for journalists with profitable projects, let’s say creating a news agency, that is a very good project that can be funded by the Sacco,” Nkuriza said.

“The Sacco will also be able to give personal loans to journalists depending on their salaries. More details are in the technical paper that we will share with media practitioners,” he added.

The technical paper, he said, “will hopefully be ready by next Tuesday before it is presented to all practicing journalists who will respond to the call for the first general assembly.”

There are about 700 registered journalists in Rwanda.

“What we are going to do is to invite all practicing journalists in registered media houses in Rwanda, and present to them the paper for their inputs,” Nkuriza said.

A start-up capital of Rwf100 million, according to Nkuriza, will be sourced from media owners who have demonstrated their commitment to establishing a cooperative for their employees.

“After that, the journalists should be able to give their monthly contributions, from there, we can mobilise other funds from well-wishers,” he added.

The contribution amount will be fixed by journalists themselves, Nkuriza said, adding that “we are not going to dictate or impose anything since the fund is theirs.”

Rwanda Governance Board (RGB) has pledged Rwf3 million towards the Sacco, which Mbungiramihigo says will cover the cost of preliminary phase of the feasibility study.

RGB is waiting for the Sacco to be set up to release the money, according to Gerald Mbanda who heads the media affairs and communication department at the Board.

Mbanda said most of newspapers “don’t have enough resources to hire competent staff,” and believes the Sacco will help “improve their profitability but also be able to create jobs.”

The timeframe for the establishment of the cooperative is not yet clear. The Media High Council and the forum of media owners say it will all depend on journalists willingness to own it.

Challenges

Practicing journalists who spoke to Saturday  Times said setting up a savings and credit cooperative is a bright idea, but expressed their lack of confidence in media owners.

They said the real problem they are faced with is working under no contracts or having a contract that is never respected, a problem they think cannot be solved by a Sacco.

Joseph Hakuzwumuremyi, who works with Umuryango, an online publication, wonders how a journalist who isn’t paid on time will pay his contribution on regular basis.

“Soldiers succeeded in setting up a cooperative bank because they are paid monthly, teachers too; can we first fix the issue of journalists who are paid once in four months?” he wondered.

“It’s unimaginable how you can expect monthly contributions from journalists who are rarely or never paid, and you think the cooperative will have financial sustainability,” he added.

Adolphe Higiro, who works with Pax Press, is worried that the proposed Sacco will collapse if it is established before salary irregularities are sorted out.

“Imagine if they give me a personal loan and my employer doesn’t pay me, how will I reimburse the loan? If I fail to, how will the cooperative keep on working?” Higiro asked.

“It is some of these media owners that renege on their contractual obligations and they are the ones establishing the Sacco, isn’t that questionable? It’s okay to have the cooperative but the best idea would be to first solve issues of salary irregularities,” he added.

editorial@newtimes.co.rw

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