The Brongs have always been excited and proud of Mahama for choosing a wife from the region. However, their love, trust and confidence for Mahama were badly shaken when the president disappointingly failed to help frustrated customers in the region whose accounts with three micro-finance companies were frozen through no fault of theirs, as a result of closure of these banks by the government and the Bank of Ghana. They have vowed that if their brother and son-in-law, President John Dramani Mahama, does not intervene to hasten the release of their monies locked in the frozen accounts, they will turn Nkoranza and the other affected areas into a living hell for government employees. The banks that were closed down include DKM and God’s Love micro-finance companies. They were closed down in May 2015.
Let me give a brief history of the Brong Ahafo region. The region was created on 4th April 1959 by the Brong Ahafo Act No.18 of 1959. The Act defined the area of the Brong Ahafo Region to consist of the northern and the western parts of the then Ashanti region. It also included Prang and Yeji areas. Before the enactment of the Act, these two towns formed part of the Northern region. Brong Ahafo region has a vast amount of rain forest, timber trees and cocoa farms. Their serious approach to farming has created many rich men and women in areas like Berekum, Dormaa, Nkoranza, Techiman and Kintampo. Many Brongs who travelled to Germany, USA and other countries in the late 70s and 80s were heavily sponsored by these rich cocoa farmers and when they became successful they bought Mercedes Benz and other luxury cars for these farmers who sponsored them. The Micro-finance companies went into these areas because of the riches in the area and the unsuspecting innocence of the people.
These micro-finance companies announced an incredibly high interest rate of 50% on any amount one saved. The people began to open accounts with the financial institutions. Many customers, including farmers, businessmen and women, politicians and students lodged vast sums of money into the accounts with the hope of retrieving 50% interest on their savings. One weeping customer confessed that he saved GHc2.5million which was money sent to him by his brother living abroad, to use for the storey building he intends to build. Other customers had saved between GHc3000 to GHc15million! Yet Bank of Ghana could not alert the customers that no bank can pay 50% interest to customers. According to some of the customers, they were encouraged or lured to save there because of the encouraging recommendation of these companies by the first lady, Mrs Lordinna Mahama – an allegation she flatly denied. To the utter disbelief of customers, the Bank of Ghana closed down the three micro-finance companies and all accounts were frozen. The establishment and closure of these institutions clearly revealed the incompetence and deliberate refusal to oversee or supervise these financial institutions. As a result they took undue advantage to operate illegally as they failed to comply with the terms and conditions stipulated in their licences. They also failed to hold sufficient assets to meet their liabilities to depositors. The former Governor of Bank of Ghana and the officials allowed the micro-finance institutions too much room to operate and therefore must be held responsible for making these unsuspecting customers worst affected by their actions and inactions.
It was a red-letter day for the people of Brong Ahafo, especially the customers, who were badly shaken. The customers could not contain the shock and it was confirmed by the MP of Berekum East that three customers collapsed and died.
This unfortunate situation has created general poverty and frustration for the people in the affected areas. In Nkoranza alone, about 90% of people living there had deposited their monies with those micro-finance companies. Pupils and students are the worst sufferers in the affected areas. Most of them remained at home due to the inability of their parent’s to pay their fees. Farmers in these areas who saved heavily in these companies can no longer invest in their farming businesses, and even when they fall sick they cannot go to hospital because all what they worked for have been locked in these accounts. They have no hope of getting their monies back. Out of worry, frustration, hardship and poverty they have threatened to invoke curses on both the government and government workers if their accounts are not released.
Concerns have been shown by many including the Brong Ahafo regional security council. The latter held series of meetings with Bank of Ghana and the micro-finance companies in a move to resolve the crisis. How far did all the meetings go? Those desperate customers still have no idea when their monies would be released to them. Eric Opoku, the Regional minister, also added his voice while supporting the position of the Regional Security service (REGSEC). He called on the Bank of Ghana to consider de-freezing the accounts of the aggrieved customers and the affected companies. Why is Mahama and his government so silent and adamant? At what point will the president intervene?
The recent step taken by the Bank of Ghana to take DKM to court and put their hands on their properties does not convince the troubled customers. According to them, what the Central bank should have done even before these micro-finance companies could establish in Brong Ahafo was to have checked on how much money they were going to inject into their operation, whether these companies were legally and fully registered to commence business or not, whether these companies had beefed up their staff strength with persons with requisite qualification and, lastly, whether a competent board had been put in place. All these were not checked and before their illegal operations and diabolic intentions became known, they had swindled these unsuspecting customers of millions of Ghana cedis. Despite the customers’ mistrust of the Bank of Ghana, they see the action taken by the bank to be in their supreme interest which is geared towards protecting them from losing both their monies and interests. Despite all explanations the affected customers still believe that Mahama and his government have a hand in their plight.
The entire members of parliament of Brong Ahafo have expressed their regret over the plight of the customers in Brong Ahafo and the action of the bank which has brought sorrows to many and sudden deaths to three customers. The Brong Ahafo minister also added his voice and confirmed that the action of the bank has affected customers emotionally, economically and psychologically. The region’s MPs came together in one accord to put pressure on Bank of Ghana to speed up investigations so that affected customers can ultimately get their money back. However, Dr. Kwabena Twum Nuamah, MP for Berekum East, in his interview at Joy News said that the situation is terrible and that he sees no light at the end of the tunnel with many customers losing all their capital. He warned of a massive demonstration if nothing positive is heard from Bank of Ghana.
Despite these unfortunate incidents and the hardships brought onto the people with locked monies in those illegal financial institutions, the citizens of Brong Ahafo went back to their farms. The farmers, especially those in the Sampa area, harvested tons of cashew nuts. Foreign buyers were on the spot to buy tons of cashew nuts from the farmers. As if what the micro-finance companies did to the Brongs were not enough, the Ministry of Trade and Industry imposed a ban on raw cashew exports and said that they were going to buy and process them before exporting them. According to the ministry, this would add value to the product and create jobs in the area. What angered the farmers was the ridiculously low prices they were going to offer farmers. The foreign buyers have disappeared and tons of cashew nuts that could have reached foreign markets got rotten due to the ban imposed on the commodity by the Ministry.
Spontaneous and effective protests were launched by both farmers and MPs in the affected areas because apart from buying them at lower prices, the factories available have the capacity to process only 35,000 bags out of the 950,000 produced by the farmers. This means that what the foreign buyers could buy at a go will be left to rot. Serious concerns and threats were issued by the leaders of the cashew farmers. One of the leaders, Mr. Mumuni Issah, said that if the ban is not lifted by the end of May 2016, the processing plants will not be allowed to buy cashew from the region. This is because the farmers have invested a lot in the expansion of their farms and they will need enough money to pay for their loans and also money to ensure their livelihood and that of their families. But with only two processing plants available, and the lower price they give coupled with the Ministry’s inability to buy all the 950,000 bags, the farmers will remain impoverished as they are going to be at the mercy of the two processing plants. Luckily enough, the Ministry of trade and Industries could not contain the pressure from the farmers and the Brong Ahafo MPs and they finally gave up and lifted the ban.
The people of Brong Ahafo are no fools. The region has hardworking farmers who have greatly contributed to Ghana’s development in terms of food products, timber and bush meat. They should be held in high esteem and not be taken for granted. With the resignation of the governor of the Central bank, the prospect and hope of the affected customers to get their monies back have dwindled. The indifference of president Mahama and his government is not helping matters.
By Stephen Atta Owusu
Author: Dark Faces at Crossroads