My recent trip to the Copperbelt was not without controversy; ostensibly meant to provide marital counsel to a young lad, it ended up being an anti-corruption symposium for some relatives. With a sizeable number of them being in the employ of mines, I was taken aback by their â€œbank lendersâ€ corruption tales.
To find out who greases the wheels of bank lenders I interviewed the borrowers. Each has a unique story to tell. Corruption in the banks is difficult to prove, perhaps until you meet desperate household borrowers. â€œUncle, I wouldnâ€™t hide you that most banks on the Copperbelt have taken advantage of miners by demanding extra tax from salary backed borrowers. It pains me to see thousands of miners greasing the palms of these heartless bankers.â€ My niece said this with a straight face, which made me recoil.
Another relative explained the rigmarole that miners go through before getting a company backed loan. â€œFirstly we have to get a clearance letter from our human resource officer, sometimes at a cost. Problems pop up at the banks, where an upfront payment is demanded to clear our names from Credit Reference Bureau.â€ Since most miners are not first time borrowers, bank lenders, at a click of a computer demand a pound of flesh to clear previous indebtedness and arrange for top up loans. Once this is done, application forms are availed in kind, away from the prickly eyes of senior bank officials.
One day, I accompanied a borrower, whose loan papers were to be fast-tracked at a fee of K1000. Although this bespectacled loan officer was cumbered by hundreds of applications, his naked reasoning astounded us. The loan was tentatively okayed subject to two things; cash at hand and Lusaka approval. Since the former failed to materialise, the loan did not see daylight. Follow-up trips yielded nothing until the attached pay slip lapsed. The banker requested for a new pay slip.
In order to wet our appetite, he opened an approved loan spreadsheet purportedly done by Lusaka. With outstretched arms he re-emphasised the needful. Deep down my heart, I thought the best would be to go to their Lusaka branch. I interviewed at random dozens of miners, who narrated their ordeals; one was asked to pay 10 percent before his K50,000 5 year loan was approved, another parted with a K4000 while the other donated an unspecified amount of petrol.
â€œIt will take me five years of K2000 monthly payments and someone has the audacity to demand 10 percent, which I canâ€™t even pay my church?â€ lamented the borrower.
After the Copperbelt ordeal we trooped into a spacious loan centre, perched on the second floor of a high-rise building. Werenâ€™t we in Lusaka after all, home of movers and shakers. One look at the borrowers account revealed that all was well.
â€œYour loan was approved in Octoberâ€ said a person behind a desk. After perusal of the account we were advised to go downstairs and deposit any amount to activate it prior to loan disbursement. We came back in time for a quick confirmation with Copperbelt, which opened the proverbial can of worms. â€œYou need to go back to your branch. It seems you forgot to sign one form and the attached pay slip has lapsed,â€ the loan officer told us matter of fact. The game was over, we had come full circle.
My kith, in dejection rang the banker amid protestations from me and quickly agreed to send mobile money while I insisted he takes the trip back home. The last I heard of him was that he received a tongue lashing from the white-collared loan shark. To my annoyance, he has since surrendered his NRC and bank card while waiting for the so-called loan to â€œmatureâ€. A vulture is a patient bird and will eventually get a chunk from the K72,000 loan; relatives are just watching from the terraces.
The author is a social and political commentator