For a cooperative to get district contract in Muhanga district, bid for private contracts or even individual members to get jobs, they are required to work from a 3-storeyed bloc built by the district as part of its own initiative to beautify the town.
The large commercial bloc is located in the city center of this district, one of the major towns in the country. This bloc was built by transport company RFTC which owns fleet of buses, and the district. The latter provided the land freely for the former to build.
Part of the commercial bloc, is occupied by three cooperatives TESEM, IPAM na COAM with over 700 members, all engaged in tailoring services. They bid for contracts like making school uniforms, and office wears for private companies.
A group of 52 members from these cooperatives cannot start work for jobs they got in August because the district doesn’t want any space on its building to remain empty. This group applied and got jobs in a new garment factory called Janiya Investments Ltd.
District officials have blocked the factory from employing this group of people, leaving then disgruntled for being stopped from developing themselves.
This case demonstrates how much power local officials wield over the lives of ordinary local residents. A simple letter from a local official reverses the life of an entire community – such is the impunity prevailing.
All members of the affected group did interviews, both oral and written, at the factory. They qualified and are supposed to take up the jobs. But they cannot. The district issued a directive to the 3 cooperatives that no member should be allowed to leave.
One of the affected narrated: “After getting the job offers, we wrote to cooperatives informing them to relieve us from responsibilities. On the morning of August 29, 2019, a directive was posted by the cooperatives informing us that we cannot leave the cooperatives. As a result, we lost the jobs in the factory.”
The factory informed the affected group that the district had directed it not to employ people from the tailoring cooperatives, a communication we have also confirmed does exist. The directives basically contradicts government policy: whereby the country is struggling to get payable employment for its thousands of unemployed, but then government entities put in places hurdles which block employment initiatives.
Hakizimana Theogene, head of one of the cooperatives, who alone agreed to be interviewed, admitted that indeed a decision had been taken not to allow members to leave. He said the decision was taken in a meeting between the cooperatives and the Janiya factory presided over by Kayiranga Innocent, the district vice mayor for development and economic affairs.
The aggrieved group accuses him of singlehandedly blocking them from taking up their jobs. Various other allegation are made against him, such as that he may have wanted to give the jobs to other people of his preference, which we were unable to verify.
Kayiranga, for his part, said the decisions were not taken by him as an individual, but in consultation with all concerned authorities in the district. He added that those who got jobs in the garment factory were told that they had to stay members of the cooperative including paying all dues even if they left for other jobs.
In short, the 52 affected people, as par the vice mayor’s explanation, must remain in the cooperative as members even if they work in the factory.
Vice mayor Kayiranga said: “We put these cooperatives in same place so they they are able to get [Business Development Fund] loans to improve lives of members. A decision was taken that anyone who gets an employment outside the cooperatives should stay as a member and continue paying contributions. It was so that the cooperatives don’t collapse.”
What the district officials dont want to address is the fact that they have refused the garment factory from employing the cooperatives’ members.
With the district and cooperative leaders blaming each other, we moved up the chain to the Rwanda Cooperatives Agency (RCA. It oversees up to 10,000 cooperatives nationally.
“A cooperative is not a prison,” said Prof Jean Bosco Harerimana, the RCA Director General. “People can join and leave at anytime if they realize the cooperative is not improving their welfare. They can write to inform their colleagues that they are leaving without any legal implications.”
Article 10, section 9 of the national law governing cooperatives stipulates that a person can join or leave, as long as they do not have any dues they owe the cooperative. When paid, they can leave by notifying the cooperative.
RCA cannot intervene in the Muhanga district case, as it is an administrative issue. It has nothing to do with the operation of cooperatives.
Officials from Janiya factory, who did not want to be interviewed, claiming they are not to blame, said the factory can only employ members of the cooperatives if they present letters from the district. Yet, the district has simply ignored those seeking these letters.
Jean de la Croix Duhoranimana, manager of Janiya Investments Ltd said they will employ the 52 people if ths district sends a new letter which reverses an earlier one that said cooperative members cannot be employed.
“For us we had reached the stage of signing contracts with the new employees. What we need is a confirmation letter from thee district so that these people can start work,” he said.
Despite having got jobs, which they cannot take up, this aggrieved group cant leave the cooperatives because they get some incomes. They had hoped to get better pay if they got to work in the factory.
And where does all this end? Cooperative leaders and members, dont want to be quoted, but did confide in us that the real reason behind the district’s actions is that they suspect if they let people leave cooperatives, the RTFC commercial bloc will remain empty.
Keeping them in the building, since they pay rent, means the tenancy is maintained. It allows the district officials to brag about the vigorous business activities in their regions.
The Chronicles did report of a $3m large market built in Rubavu district, which until today is nearly empty. It was supposed to be cross-border market for Rwandan and Congolese businesspeople. As we reported, the district had been forcing small business owners to take up space. However, those already there said they dont get clients because their are other markets and it is far away.
Back to Muhanga district, one of the affected 52 people who may lose the job opportunity if no action is taken, said: “We remain hostages working in this building. Laws are ignored with so much ease here and no one is coming to our rescue so that we can get those jobs.”
By Aimable Uwizeyimana
This story was produced as a collaboration between Radio Huguka based in Muhanga district and The Chronicles