Last month I toured Uganda’s main prison complex of Luzira in eastern Kampala.
Though I did post graduate studies in two European countries (and visited several others) where I saw beggars and drug addicts on a daily basis, it didn’t prepare me for meeting white inmates in our local, Ugandan prison.
Maybe it is the lasting impressions on a child’s mind, for the only white people I grew up seeing in Uganda were teachers, doctors and missionaries – all noble professions.
I asked each mzungu I encountered there what landed him in Luzira and each of the humbled fellows mumbled some white collar crime as having led to their conviction; fraud, cybercrime, impersonation.
Days later, Uganda police issued a statement that some bank staff were giving thieves information about transactions on customers’ accounts. A businessman had been abducted and forced to withdraw and sign away big sums of money from his account, before being brutally murdered.
A commercial bank is not like a government department where you make bogus claims and payments are made. To get money from a bank, the owner must sanction the transaction, that is why bank staff don’t do it the easy way of their government counterparts. They go the bloody way and pass crucial information to hardcore criminals for transactions to be forcibly effected.
If a mzungu wearing a yellow prison uniform in Uganda was surprising, a banker working with robbers who kill their victims for money is mind-numbing.
While we hope the cases are rare and isolated, it is not comforting enough to the victims’ bereaved families, and once such a scheme succeeds, more staff get tempted to try it out. Just call the bad guys when an unguarded customer has just withdrawn a large amount. Or tell the bad guys which unguarded person has received large EFT and they go make him (or her as most recent victims have been female) sing out their ATM PIN under torture, and sign a few cheques.
But when did bankers degenerate this badly? They were supposed to be respectable people, dressed impeccably and above all, keeping secrets as part of their trade. Some people have hazarded an explanation that bankers’ pay is terribly low, compared with the tempting amounts they handle.
If a person works in a restaurant, is it in order for them to sleep hungry? If a person counts billions every day, should they go around with empty wallets?
Apparently, an average bank teller in Uganda takes home the equivalent of $200. Considering that you cannot do stuff on the side as you are glued to your station all day, is it worthwhile doing such a job?
It seems the high unemployment is what keeps some people in the underpaying yet highly demanding bank jobs. If the banks are not making enough money to pay their staff reasonable wages, is it not about time they reviewed their business model?
If more customers embraced electronic banking, would the chances of being robbed and sometimes killed by collaborators of the bank staff be reduced?
It is tough enough making some money these days. Being killed by connivance of the people who keep it for you is simply unacceptable.
Joachim Buwembo is a social and political commentator based in Kampala. E-mail: [email protected]