Microfinance Institutions- Entitled to Torture

The SKS Microfinance media coverage has heightened the awareness of government, regulators and public on the improper functioning of microfinance companies. Finally they are waking up to the issues of corporate governance and ethics adopted by microfinance institutions.

Today, in Economic Times the headline is “AP plans law to curb microfinance firms” highlights the issue. Finally the chief minister of Andra Pradesh state has said “The state government will soon bring an ordinance to control microfinance institutions” Additional excerpt from the newspaper article – “A spate of suicides in recent weeks and months has also been blamed on them. Microfinance employees and agents have also been accused of kidnapping women and children, and torturing them to recover loans. The DGP is also thinking of setting up a special cell for MFI harassment under the central investigation department.”

It is quite outrageous that government is still thinking about making laws and starting investigation cells. From the data available with National Crime Records Bureau (NCRB), 199,132 farmers committed suicide between 1997-2008.  In 2008 itself 16,196 farmers committed suicide. The Big 5 States (Maharashtra, Andhra Pradesh, Karnataka, Madhya Pradesh and Chhattisgarh) account for two-thirds of all farmer suicides during 2003-08.Farmer suicide account for 1 of every 10 suicides in the country.

Farmers are committing suicide due to their inability to payback the EMI’s on their loans. Rural Indian population primary source of income is from agriculture. Indian population and government are showing significant apathy to their plight. Under the circumstances, microfinance companies consider themselves licensed to kill to recover their loans.

The present foreclosure issue in USA has shown that public outrage can force government including the president to think twice before approving laws favoring financial institutions. Indians are happy to discuss the mortgage and foreclosure issue of USA in social circles and blogs. However, very few are discussing regarding the issue at home about Indian farmers. Is it because it does not add to the social image?

Aamir Khan productions recently produced the movie “Pepli Live”, a satire on the farmer suicide issue. It mocked the methods with which media and government use the issue for their own self-interest. The movie is India’s nomination for the Oscars. I am sure if the movie receives an award the Indian population will be mighty pleased and happy.

But will it make urban Indians stand up and voice their concerns on the real issue of farmers suicide. Or will they as usual have a short-term memory regarding rural poor? I apologize for being nasty, but when will we stop inhuman treatment? Are poor people less entitled to live?

SKS faced power tussles in past too

The board of directors sacked SKS Microfinance MD & CEO Suresh Gurumani after a few months of an IPO of Rs 1650 crores. The reason could be that SKS Microfinance founder and executive chairman MrVikram Akula had interpersonal issues with Suresh Gurumani. Previously, some senior management had left the organization on the same grounds. According to information, the board of directors all voted in favor of  termination of Suresh Gurumani.  There were no performance or business ethics issues to implicate Suresh Gurumani . 

With repeated actions of the executive chairman and board to terminate senior management on interpersonal issues, there appears marked disrespect for corporate governance. Should owners of listed companies, where public money is involved, be allowed to settle personal scores in this manner? Read the article from Times of India below to assess for yourself.

“HYDERABAD: Even as the reasons for the unceremonious sacking of Hyderabad-based SKS Microfinance’s MD and CEO Suresh Gurumani continue to be shrouded in mystery , it now emerges that this is not the first time that India’s largest MFI has seen a change of guard in such an abrupt fashion.

Industry insiders, who have witnessed the rapid rise of SKS Microfinance from an Andhra Pradesh-based MFI to one of the largest MFIs in the world in less than a decade , point out how power tussles and hasty departures at the top have been the norm than exception in the company . While the manner in which Gurumani, who joined the company in December 2008, was given the boot within months of a successful IPO of Rs 1,650 crore has already sent alarm bells ringing over the flouting of corporate governance norms, whispers have been growing louder about personality clashes and differences of opinion with SKS Microfinance founder and executive chairman Vikram Akula precipitating the crisis . While, TOI’s attempts to reach Akula were unsuccessful , news agencies on Tuesday quoted him as admitting that Gurumani was fired because of “interpersonal issues with senior management” . But industry sources point out that on more than one occasion people at the helm of SKS like Praseeda Kunam and Raghunatha Reddy had to leave within days of Akula’s return to an active role in the company’s affairs.”

Read more at SKS faced power tussles in past too at Times of India site.