Govt closes in on student loan defaulters

The Government should harden its stance with stringent measures if it is to ever recover billions of francs owed by citizens in student loans going back decades ago.
Students in a lecture. The government is set to come up with a new push to recover billions of francs in student loans. The New Times/ Timothy Kisambira.
Students in a lecture. The government is set to come up with a new push to recover billions of francs in student loans. The New Times/ Timothy Kisambira.

The Government should harden its stance with stringent measures if it is to ever recover billions of francs owed by citizens in student loans going back decades ago.

Currently, the recovery is being pushed through the Higher Education Student Loan Department (previously an autonomous entity known by its acronym, SFAR), under the Rwanda Education Board (Reb).

Tied to bank loans

However, with some beneficiaries claiming they are not aware of repayment mechanism, others that they have never been contacted to repay, some experts say government should consider borrowing a leaf from foreign countries that have faced similar dilemma before.

Kenya and the UK have both had loan issues with different stories from the Rwanda scenario, and experts such as Kenya Commercial Bank Rwanda chief executive Maurice Toroitich say banks could be asked not to extend loan services to defaulters.

From 1980 to-date, more that Rwf70 billion has been loaned to students. However, only Rwf6 billion has been recovered.

The students who benefited from the scheme went to both Rwandan institutions as well as universities in different parts of the world.

SFAR campaign

Of the 66,000 beneficiaries so far, only 8,000 have paid back, leaving the financing body with a daunting task of tracking more than 50,000 people whose whereabouts are not readily established.

Five years ago, SFAR embarked on a campaign to recover its monies from the beneficiaries. At their offices, memories of the launch are stored in an album. The pictures tell a story of their own.

Prominent personalities, including the Ombudsman and former Chief Justice Aloysia Cyanzaire, Education minister Vincent Biruta, and Senate president Jean Damascène Ntawukuriryayo and his deputy Bernard Makuza (then prime minister), were recognised at the launch of the campaign for repaying their scholarships.

During the launch to sensitise the beneficiaries to pay up, some even signed dummy cheques promising to pay.

Louise Karamaga, the deputy director of Rwanda Education Board (Reb) in charge of High Education Students’ Loans, said her office cannot  wait any more and is now finalising plans for a six-month recovery campaign to be launched next month.

“We will reach out to different institutions to collaborate while making sure that they deduct a monthly charge, until an employee (beneficiary) has paid back the total amount,” Karamaga said.

The same strategy was used before without success. Karamaga, though, said they are also working on tougher measures.

“A draft Bill will determine procedures of recovery and penalties to people who do not honour their obligation. Sanctions will provoke people to pay; they have been taking it as something optional,” she said.

Some of the beneficiaries who talked to this paper rebutted claims of not meeting obligations, saying concerned officials have never  made follow-ups.

Solange Umuhire, who graduated from the College of Arts and Humanities (former National University of Rwanda) in 2011, said she is vague about the loan.

“I don’t know who I should pay to, where to pay and how much I am supposed to pay,” she said.

Assumpta Ingabire, a consultant in Kigali, said if the repayment process is to work, the concerned authorities must do more to track down the beneficiaries.

“I heard that only civil servants have to pay, but if we (private sector) are also meant to repay the loan, let the Ministry of Education come to us and ask for the money. If we can pay a tithe, why shouldn’t we repay the scholarship loan?” Ingabire, who graduated last year, said.

Low recovery rate

In 2007, Direction de l’Enseignement Supérieure (Management of Higher Education), the organisation in charge then, handed to SFAR shipping containers filled with paper work that was used to record monthly payments  to beneficiaries.

The list was scanned and data entered in electronic format.

“Currently, we have put the records on the Management Information System, which will help us to track the records of every debtor,” Karamaga said.

Experts in loan management said SFAR has to do more to recover the loans.

Maurice Toroitich, the chief executive of Kenya Commercial Bank Rwanda, said apart from the collaboration between government and the private sector, students’ loan should be tied to a bank loan where defaulters are denied the service.

Kenya’s similar scheme, the Higher Education Loans Board (HELB), is also a reference. With a recovery rate of 60 per cent, SFAR can borrow a leaf.

HELB engaged both employers and employees, such that, upon getting a job, an employee informs the Board. The employer also commits to deducting the fee.

The Board said they now they earn an average of Ksh51 million (about Rwf390 million) per month.

Also, this week, the UK sold $960 million of student loans to a debt recovery company in a bid to ‘privatise’ the recovery process.

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