The Zimbabwe Association of Microfinance Institutions (ZAMFI) recently completed a regulatory review of the microfinance sector. In this instalment, NewsDay financial columnist Omen Nyevero Muza (ONM) talks to Godfrey C Chitambo (GCC), the association’s executive director, about the rationale of the review, potential benefits of the study to key stakeholders and next steps the association is considering taking.
Financial sector spotlight
with Omen Muza
ONM: A regulatory review of the microfinance sector commissioned by your association was recently completed. Why was it necessary to carry out such a review?
GCC: As you are aware, ZAMFI is an association and approximately 51% of its time is still spent on lobbying and advocacy issues. Lobbying is primarily for a conducive atmosphere and operating environment for microfinance institutions to execute their work.
As such, the association needs to carry our regulatory reviews so that it is guided by what is prevailing on the ground rather than perceptions. Also, at one of our member meetings in early 2015, members gave us a mandate to execute this review.
The last review was done in 2004 and as some might know, that was before the Microfinanace Policy and the Microfinance Act, both of which have changed the microfinance sector landscape drastically. Evidence-based research is more powerful in making people appreciate situations than arguing off the cuff and with uncorroborated evidence — an old and archaic model of lobbying.
ONM: You have now had the opportunity to review the final report. Any surprises from the findings?
GCC: The secretariat had a chance to review the report, but reviewing is a process. What we can confirm is that we held a meeting with the researcher for an in-depth understanding/analysis of some of the issues contained therein so that when we meet members, we would be knowing the report in and out. Since the report was commissioned by us, it was imperative that we had a very deep understanding and actually own the report from all angles.
ONM: What issues did you always know as an association which the study validated?
GCC: We have always known that the sector is not happy with the tenure of multifinancial institution (MFI) operating licences, which is currently one year. MFIs prefer a perpetual licence just like other financial institutions. This promotes long-term investment into the sector and allows MFIs to underwrite meaningful business activities, whose impact can be felt across the whole country, meaningfully promoting financial inclusion.
ONM: What in your view are the most important findings of this review?
GCC: Although this is a cosmetic issue, the secretariat was pleasantly surprised and comforted by the fact that MFIs “. . . are sufficiently aware of the key statutes governing them.” The association has done a lot of work to ensure that members are aware of the key statutes as they apply to the daily operations of the MFIs. This is good news.
ONM: So how is the association going to benefit from the regulatory review?
GCC: It is still too early to indicate how, but suffice it to stay there are going to be follow up issues. For instance, there are some issues which corroborate our 2016-2020 strategic plan, which was crafted at the same time this review was being done. Although there is no chance that the two researchers had sight of each other’s documents, there are some pleasant surprises in that there are similar issues: so the first thing is to harmonise the two documents.
And as per ZAMFI policy, we always pursue our findings to logical conclusions. Our last three such studies gave birth to formalisation of private credit registries, the other gave rise to the Zimbabwe Microfinance Fund (which is well on its way) and this one, after ratifying with selected key stakeholders will give us indications for the next three or so years on how to proceed. It touches on other issues such as membership retention, which should increase our membership and our offering to microfinance practitioners. The report also touches on harmonisation of the ZAMFI Code of Ethics and the Code of Conduct in the Microfinance Act.
ONM: And members of the association, how do you expect them to benefit?
GCC: The good thing with a research is that it gives us an informed voice and understanding on issues critical to the business of members of the association. Before a research is undertaken, the issues at stake might appear more like perceptions without any grounded confirmation from the operating environment. MFIs and other stakeholders are now armed with an evidenced-based research, which can inform them in terms of strategies to undertake lobbying and advocacy issues to advance within the sector.
ONM: I understand that you have shared the report with the Reserve Bank of Zimbabwe, which happens to register and supervise MFIs in Zimbabwe. What has been the apex bank’s response to the outcome of the study?
GCC: The report was well-received, but I am sure there will be due processes as well within the Bank. Of course, ZAMFI will formalise roundtable meetings on salient issues of the report which affect the central bank.
ONM: So, what’s next after the regulatory review?
GCC: Roundtable meetings with members to elucidate key strategic issues.
ONM: Any special contributions, input or support you would like to acknowledge in respect of the regulatory review?
GCC: The ZAMFI board would like to thank most profusely our partner in this regard, ZIMBISA, who played a critical role and continue to play a critical role as we shape our advocacy offering to members. We thank members and all stakeholders for duly responding to questions and interventions, etc.
l Omen N. Muza edits the MFSB. You can view his LinkedIn profile at zw.linkedin.com/pub/omen-n-muza/30/641/3b8 or initiate contact on firstname.lastname@example.org