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Looming Bankruptcy Of FIFFA Bank Worries Customers 

By Vanini Anyiateh Atabong* — Customers of First Investment For Financial Assistance, FIFFA, have expressed fears they might lose their savings as the bank’s financial situation worsens. In recent months, customers who have been turning up at the bank for one transaction or the other have left disappointed as they are often told that there is no Internet connection.

Fears are rife that the bank will soon close down as some of its branches at Mile Four Limbe and Idenau have shut down. Things came to a head about a fortnight ago, when an irate customer, who could not withdraw his money, sealed the FIFFA office in Buea until the police intervened to free the besieged staff of the institution.

Requests by customers to have their savings refunded them increased when they learned that other micro-finance institutions were in financial difficulties, with some already dysfunctional. Their fright was heightened by the fact that another Buea-based micro finance institution, CAPCOL, had long collapsed and most of its customers were unable to recover their savings.
A customer, who did not want to be named, told The Post that FIFFA is on the verge of closing down.

“For more than a month now, I have been struggling to receive money sent to me by a friend in Kumba but to no avail. Whenever I come here, they complain of no connection. I came here from Limbe and other branches there have been closed down, so I think this branch is also soon going to close down,” he said.

Another client, Julie Etoh said she has been to the bank twice but has been unable to collect money sent to her from Spain. “I have been dealing with FIFFA for a long time but due to this kind of behaviour, I had to stop. They always waste time before giving people’s money. I have been here twice and they keep on complaining of no internet connection,” Etoh told The Post.

A woman who came to receive money sent from Europe said: “For about a week now they have been complaining of no connection and they are doing nothing about it. Before you collect money here you must have spent it all on transport”. Some customers say it is almost the start of the academic year and they have not started preparing their children for the school year.

“I am a civil servant, and I have a salary account here since 2001. Before, FIFFA was good but now I cannot tell what is happening. I have been coming here for more than a week now but they keep saying the same thing, no internet connection”, Elvis Okpu, another embittered client, said. He attributes the problem to embezzlement, poor banking policies, poor management and misunderstanding among shareholders.

Also, Richard Mesumbe, a retired Prisons Superintendent, expressed frustration. “I came here to collect money sent to me from abroad for my children’s school fees but I have not been able to get the money and the school year is coming to a start, and I don’t know what I to do.,” Mesumbe said. Despite all these complaints, some customers say FIFFA has been paying some of their customers gradually.

“FIFFA has been paying some customers gradually. When you leave your cheque with them, you have to wait for about two weeks before you can collect part or all of your money. They wait for their headquarters to send the little they can send and they use it to settle some customers,” said Georges Mbabngong, a FIFFA customer for more than six years. Mbabngong adds that FIFFA does not have enough liquidity now unlike before and the manager has developed tactics of disappearing from the bank because she has been answering too many questions.

While some observers blame Government for failing to control the bank, The Post learnt it is the duty of the Commission Bancaire de L’Afrique Centrale, COBAC, to authorise, advise and supervise the bank. Efforts by The Post to get officials of the bank to comment on the situation were abortive as staff members declined commenting. They said they could not comment till they get clearance from their hierarchy.

It would be recalled that, recently, customers of another micro-finance institution, Security Finance, besieged one of the offices of the institution in Molyko, a few hundred metres from FIFFA, locked up the staff for hours and threatened hell till their money was paid. The management of Security Finance was only spared following negotiations carried out by the Divisional Officer for Buea, Abraham Chekem.

*(UB Journalism Student On Internship)

First published in The Post print edition No 01368

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