Justice for Consumers (Limited by Guarantee)
Justice for Consumers Limited (JC) was incorporated in 2010 as a not for profit company limited by guarantee. Justice for Microfinance Consumers began as a two year consumer protection project funded by a grant from a US Foundation. Founding lawyers were veterans of the commercial microfinance sector who first recognized the overwhelming need for advocacy and legal aid to protect the rights of the poor who were clients of microfinance institutions. At the beginning, JC assisted only clients of microfinance institutions, but the founders rapidly realized that poor consumers were not only being harmed by financial services providers, but by an array of corporate actors that do not respect consumer rights. Thus, the lawyers expanded their focus. And as a result, Justice for Microfinance Consumers became Justice for Consumers in 2011.
In Uganda, poor microfinance clients are being targeted by some unscrupulous criminals disguised as microfinance institutions (see COWE case), as well as treated poorly by valid microfinance institutions.
Clients are desperate for reliable, efficient and affordable legal services; education on their rights and responsibilities and access to redress mechanisms when the institutions that purport to serve the poor, are in effect robbing from them. Justice for Consumers has quickly become a trusted adviser of consumers seeking to understand the loan agreements they’ve signed, as well as those seeking relief from over indebtedness. JC staff offer on-site and off-site consultations for consumers as well as for microfinance Institutions, and represent consumers, the majority of whom are women, in courts of law when their rights are violated.
The law does not operate in a vacuum, and Justice for Consumers are experienced advocates who have in house experience with some of the leading international MFIs (FINCA Uganda and Opportunity Uganda), as well as a keen understanding of for profit, business models which often play fast and loose with clients’ rights in favour of increasing profit margins. Further, Uganda’s legal and regulatory frameworks inadequate to fully protect consumers; while government will is low to prosecute those guilty of fraud and Ponzi schemes, possibly due to its own culpability.
JC is expanding rapidly both thanks to the addition of young enthusiastic lawyers and because we provide the poor with high quality, affordable legal services. JC’s clients know that we have a personal commitment to human development, followed by the economic development of Uganda.
Profile of the Managing Director
Mr. Zeija Flavian Esq.,
LL.B (MUK), DIP.LP (LDC), LL.M, (Muk), Advocate, Member, Uganda Law Society, East African Law society.
Flavian prides in a wealth of Experience in Financial and microfinance institutions. He has significant experience in corporate formation and administration; advising investors; land and property transactions; labour relations, and local and international business transactions. Flavian has an LLM in Business law from Makerere University and is currently acting Head of the Business Law Department of Makerere University. Flavian spent six years with FINCA Uganda, a leading Ugandan MFI and previously worked in various commercial bank’s legal departments.
JC is located at Old Kiira Road, Plot 1561,
Cooper House 1st Floor (Kamyokya)
Postal: P.O. Box 40285
DELICIOUS PEACE IN GALA
In a rural village outside of Mbale I met with JJ Kaki, founder of Mirembe Kawomera, meaning “Delicious Peace” in Luganda. Knowing his role in the creation of a cooperative lauded by Oprah Winfrey and moving Paul Katzeff, founder of Thanksgiving Coffee, to request every.single.bag. the cooperative grew, I was excited and unsure of what to expect. Pulling up to his front porch directly off the winding and very dusty dirt road, I realized immediately I was going to like this man.
Tall, thin, dressed casually and wearing a hand-made kippah, JJ greeted me warmly and immediately welcomed me into his home. Simply furnished with a photo of the local Rabbi (his brother) on the wall, JJ invited us to sit on the couch where, within 5 minutes, African tea (hot tea with milk) and jackfruit was brought to us by his wife. After chatting for a few minutes about GALA and saying hello to a few of his children, I began to learn more about the man behind the product that GALA will sell to raise funds for future legal cases.
JJ’s idea for an interfaith community started in 2001, when he was on a trip to the United States to share the story of how he revived the Jewish community in East Uganda after the reign of Idi Amin. His trip included a day that not only he, but the entire world would never forget. JJ’s coffee cooperative and strong Jewish community narrowly missed never existing as his scheduled tour of the World Trade Center would have had him in the towers at the exact moment they were hit. “I witnessed the disappearance of the World Trade Center. The very day, the very time, the very place.” What seemed unlucky at the time turned into a life-saving delay when the friend he was staying with was held up trying to vote in the NYC Mayoral primaries. Instead of witnessing the crash and subsequent explosions from within, JJ exited the subway and stood shocked as he and the rest of New York City watched the World Trade Centers burn and then collapse from the impact of two Boeing 767s.
Believing at first that the attack was simply a horrible accident, JJ was shocked to learn that it was religiously motivated violence. “Things are terrible in the whole of the U.S. For us in Uganda we are a minority and this behavior has not yet started but maybe in the future it will come. But how are we preparing ourselves? So when I came home I mobilized my friends and I would tell my story, telling visitors, repeating the same story, the whole week! Then i asked, ‘how do we prepare ?’ We must make a cooperative. Whereby those Muslims, Christians, Jews and other people of different sects should come together and try to bring peace.”
The story gets more interesting from there. An inspired Jewish-American musician and artist who had previously met and worked with JJ began contacting coffee distributors straight out of the yellow pages. On her 50th try, a man on the other end decided her beginning sales pitch was worth listening to. Paul Katzeff, CEO of Thanksgiving Coffee stated, “I couldn’t believe my good fortune. I was the recipient of this call because 50 coffee roasters heard this story and declined to purchase before tasting samples. They were focusing on the product so they missed the story. For me the story was inspiring at minimum. People of faith finding hope through coffee. Choosing cooperation in a world torn up by intolerance.” (you can read his full account here)
JJ’s idea for religious harmony was finally bringing not only peace but financial support to the community. His explanation on the magic of Mirembe Kawomera is best left in his words and the analogy he uses to relate the growth of coffee to the growth of peace:
“Coffee is very friendly. Coffee needs to be grown among banana plantations, needs to be mixed into other plants. If it is alone, it will not do well. Especially organic coffee. Shady tree coffee, we have to plant big trees that also support the environment. You will see how friendly the coffee is. You will see how coffee is when it is with no other plants and it is weak. Coffee under big trees and matoke is beautiful.”
GALA has chosen Mirembe Kawomera ‘delicious peace’ coffee for what will be their first fundraising product, sold to those interested in supporting justice and demanding a good cup of rich, organic coffee. Proceeds will go directly to support future cases GALA will take on representing the poor and marginalized, and will also support JJ Keki and his interfaith community, determined to show the world that, as JJ puts it, “religions are like flowers. Flowers, when mixed together, you find them so beautiful.” **To find out when GALA can send a bag of “Delicious Peace” coffee directly to your home or office, please contact firstname.lastname@example.org and we can put you on the first shipment!
IT'S EXPENSIVE BEING POOR
“It’s expensive being poor” ~ James Baldwin
It certainly is. Commonly referred to as a poverty tax, the poor shoulder a heavy burden. Working with GALA this summer has exposed me to additional problems the poor face in the legal, education and health systems. The cyclical nature of poverty starts at birth. In Uganda, women who don’t have the money to have a child in a private hospital or with a midwife risk untreated complications. In Detroit, women lacking education on prenatal nutrition risk premature birth or a baby lacking vitamins and minerals in breast milk. Continuing to early education, parents in Uganda who can’t afford to buy a school uniform can’t send their children to school, regardless of the “free primary school education” mandate by President Museveni. In Detroit, parents who can’t afford to live in affluent neighborhoods are often forced to send their children to schools where classroom sizes are larger, facilities are decrepit and security involves metal detectors at the door and armed guards walking the hallways.
Let’s move on to high school, or secondary school as it’s called in Uganda. Students have now fallen several levels behind their peers in subjects ranging from science to English. Detroit students in high income neighborhoods are peppered with career expos and college prep sessions with college and career counselors advising students on what classes will best prepare them for college entrance exams and the SAT. In other neighborhoods, students can count more friends that have dropped out than are still in school. Some girls are now looking at childcare options as opposed to after school clubs to join. At this point, breaking the poverty cycle starts to look bleak. Researchers from Georgetown University found that “a college degree is key to economic opportunity, conferring substantially higher earnings on those with credentials than those without.” I mention these two areas; Detroit, Michigan and Uganda because I have lived and worked in both places and different in many aspects, there are also striking similarities, most notably the challenges faced by the poor. In the legal field, GALA hopes to minimize the discordance.
GALA will play an important role in breaking the poverty cycle through providing low-cost and free legal aid and educating and empowering the poor on their rights. Currently in Uganda, GALA is pursuing cases in microfinance and human rights, identifying victims of a Ponzi scheme from a local microfinance institution that left hundreds of poor investors with nothing and a blatant abuse of power by officials who kept street children against their will in a lock-up center with possible physical abuse. These are the cases that deserve just as much international outrage as the Bernie Madoff cases of the world.
THE JOYS OF WIRELESS AND AN INTERVIEW WITH FLAVIAN ZEJIA
May 31, 2013
Having brought my laptop, I have the good fortune of being able to work remotely. With wireless in a cafe about as reliable as broadband service at MUBS, I have taken to coming into the office about twice a week. My schedule is much more similar to University life than I envisioned. I spend several hours in the morning reading relevant articles and academic papers on social impact, social justice issues and what’s going on in Uganda before taking a break in the afternoon to go for a run, make a long lunch or run errands. Kampala traffic appears to have as much logic as someone taking the ‘down’ escalator to ascend to the next floor so errands are quite the task! It’s a great opportunity to take advantage of the sunny days before heading in to work for several more hours in the evening.
Luckily, I picked the right part of town to stay when it comes to finding an external place to work and about 2 blocks from where I live is the American Recreation Association (ARA). I can purchase a weekly membership and have access to wireless internet and a workout facility…essentially my ideal office. It even comes with cute children who occasionally pop into the Business Center to google things on the ARA computer like, “the warst spider bits” [sic]. It’s at the ARA that I’ve had a chance to read through some interesting cases involving serious breaches against the laws here in Uganda. In addition, I’ve been able to research different industries and the ways organizations have attempted to measure impact with the aim to compare these methods to best identify what will help GALA in two specific ways; improve their internal assessment methods and provide credibility for funders and new partners.
I have found the best part of working with GALA to be interacting with Flavian and his amazing staff. Flavian is routinely pulled in all directions but when he is available, he is always willing to help and answer questions. Flavian’s drive and passion for social justice for the poor are admirable. He has a unique ability to discuss very serious subject matters while appearing seemingly relaxed and open to discussion. Knowing he encounters egregious injustices on a weekly, if not daily basis, I interviewed Flavian to discover how exactly he’s able to maintain a calm exterior with such an impassioned soul. His answers not only humbled me but blew me away. After listening to his story, I realized how GALA, while currently in its initial start-up phase, has strong odds in its favor. With powerful personal motivation from its founders and a passion for social justice, it will be difficult for GALA to do anything but achieve greatness.
My summarized interview with Flavian follows:
- *Tell me a little bit about your background, how did you end up as head of the legal department and GALA Founder?
In primary school I lost my parents and so in secondary, (education is only considered compulsory and subsidized for primary school), I nearly dropped out. I was first in my class yet could not afford the school fees to continue. I spoke to my teacher who, sympathetic and also hoping to keep her top student suggested I work through all the breaks and stay on campus to pay for my school fees. I agreed and it was on one of these breaks that I met Father Angus, a priest from Ireland, Father Angus received funding from his parish in Ireland to support girls going to school. After hearing my story he decided it might be a sin to lie and add me to the roster of funded “girls” but surely he would be forgiven in heaven. From that point on, I was able to continue fully funded until I graduated.
After secondary school I earned scholarships through college and law school and then started as a legal assistant at a lawfirm. From there I moved to a legal manager at a bank until my interest in helping the poor led me to FINCA and the microfinance industry. It was here that I began to see the severe injustices that commonly occur against the poor simply because of that reason, they are poor. I saw the other side of microfinance; the instances where the illiterate were not read the real obligations they were taking on when accepting a loan, the instances where a member of a community fund took the money and left the others to face going to prison or giving all they had to repay a loan they would never benefit from. This was the beginning of GALA, before I actually knew it.
- *When did you meet Jami?
I met Jami at a conference and after we discussed some of the frustrating injustices we’d encountered, I was surprised to realize she’d seen much worse than I had. We ended up working on and international project where Jami oversaw the international aspects and I was leading the Ugandan arm. This short-term project allowed us the time to get to know each other a bit better and it was after this project that the idea for GALA started.
- *Why GALA? With your busy schedule, what made you decide GALA was necessary?
I have seen far too many injustices where there has been no organization like GALA to fight for the poor. The people who don’t have resources are the ones who are taken advantage of over and over. GALA is here to change that.
- *What is your passion, what makes you get out of bed in the morning?
I want to see the poor receive justice. This is what initially drove me to law.
- *What do you see as your role going forward with GALA?
As a Founder I see my role as tri-fold; to insure that the injustices that exist are addressed: First, it is my role to seek funding for GALA, specifically for Uganda and my role with Consumer Justice (GALA’s Uganda partner and Flavian’s organization). Secondly, human resources; to continue to recruit passionate people to join GALA in all forms, financiers, legal counsel or supportive voices and advocates. Third, redress injustices; it is my responsibility to provide a legal aid for those who don’t have the resources to fight by themselves.
- *Where do you see GALA in 5 years?
I see GALA as the main architect to legal issues affecting the poor.
GALA'S VERY FIRST INTERN BEGINS A SOCIAL NETWRK PLAN OF ACTION!
Raising the Bar: Global Alliance for Legal Aid Demands Justice for All
Friday, May 24th, 2013
Oly-Otya! My name is Caitie Goddard and this summer I will be working for Global Alliance for Legal Aid (GALA) with their Ugandan partner, Justice for Consumers, based in Kampala, Uganda. I have just started my 2nd week with GALA and have already found this experience to be exactly what I was hoping for in an internship; challenging, interesting, and engaging with great support where I need it. I will be working from Makerere University Business School with Flavian Zeija, co founder of GALA and head of the Law School at MUBS (pronounced Moobs, which I always find amusing to say). Jami Solli, the other Founder and Executive Director of GALA is based in the US and most of our correspondence will be done via Skype and email, although we are hopeful she will have a chance to come to Kampala at some point this summer.[break]
Me and Flavian, Cofounder of GALA
To briefly summarize GALA, their website’s main page gives a great description:[break]
“GALA is an association of jurists who provide legal aid and advocate for the public interest in developing countries. According to the UNDP’s report Making the Law Work for Everyone, some 4 billion people globally do not have access the judicial system or to legal services due to poverty. Effectively, the poor do not have rights. Gala’s goal is to assist legal aid lawyers to help the poor to reclaim their rights and to promote public interest advocacy and litigation.”[break]
My internship centers around 2 specific tasks: developing a social impact assessment strategy and building GALA’s presence in the social media sphere. When I interviewed for the position via Skype with Jami, I was interested immediately and it was obvious through correspondence that both Jami and Flavian had a passion for their work and providing legal aid to the poor. Although they were initially looking for someone with a background in law, I had hoped my past position working for GVN Foundation would prove valuable and luckily, it was! As I continue to learn more about GALA, Flavian and Jami, I am so grateful to have the opportunity to spend this time working with them in Uganda and learning a lot more about the (lack of) international legal infrastructure.[break]
In addition to meeting via email GALA’s partners around the world and reading heaps of informative articles to better acquaint myself with access to legal aid issues and the challenges to accurately identifying solutions, I have found myself working on my negotiation skills with the boda boda drivers (the motorbikes that transport people who don’t have time to sit in traffic for an hour in a matatu); in every corner of Kampala looking for long-term rent options; purchasing a sim card and dongle; bartering my way to cheap fruits and vegetables in the local market; and meeting up with old friends (I spent 9 weeks in Uganda 4 years ago). I also managed to find two very helpful locals who invited me to play basketball over the weekend. Aside from being the only girl and drawing quite a few stares during pickup basketball, I had a blast and plan on making it a regular part of my time here.[break]
William and Patrick, my wonderful friends for 4 years![break]
Kampala is certainly a change from Ann Arbor and I’d have to work harder to find more similarities than differences but I am really enjoying the change! However, one thing remains constant: the people here are wonderful, love sports and good food, and want to support their families while enjoying all that life has to throw at them. Working with GALA to protect the rights of the poor will be a great opportunity to ensure more people have the chance to do so.
JUSTICE FOR CONSUMERS VS. UGANDAN COMMERCIAL BANKS
A Public Interest Action: Case No. 02/2012.
1. Client Identification, location and relevant case background.
The clients reside in Kampala, the capital of Uganda.
In 2011 following the presidential elections, Uganda experienced one of the highest levels of inflation in the country’s history, at an estimated 31%. As a measure to contain inflation, the Central Bank tried to use monetary instruments to control it and the imediate option available to the Central Bank was to increase interest rates.
Upon the Central Bank’s rate, the Comercial Banks followed suit and increased interest rates.
While this action by comercial banks was legitimate for new loans, at the time, the Comercial Banks retroactively increased the interest rates on existing loans as well. This action meant that those whose income at the time of borrowing was sufficient to service their loans could no longer afford to do so post rate increase (further, consumer purchasing power was decreased by a third during this time as well for staple foods etc.). As a consequence, many persons have lost their businesses. This has also affected those with salary loans as well (aka consumer loans as opposed to productive, business loans).
Recently, the central bank reduced interest rates, but the comercial banks have refused to reduce their own rates despite calls from the Central Bank to do so.
2. Legal issue (s)presented:
This is a case involves financial institutions cheating their clients to increase corporate profits. The comercial banks increased interest rates based on a contractual clause allowing them to modify interest rates. But the issue is: is that right absolute; and what are the consumers’ rights when the banks are clearly taking unfair advantage?
3. Why the clients require legal aid:
Many of the clients at issue who have suffered this injustice were persons in the lower earning levels of society. Even those who are not totally financially destitute still cannot file cases for fear of legal costs in the event they lose the case. A public interest legal action is therefore the ideal solution. A successful action would also establish a precedent whereby banks would (hopefully) refrain from similar bad conduct in the future.
4. Counsel’s advocacy strategy:
Our strategy is to file a public interest action so that court can consider the issue.
5. Assistance requested from local Counsel from lawyers in other Jurisdictions:
i) Fees for filling the case (Ugandan shillings = $ USD)
ii) Legal costs for counsel including transport and honorarium
6. Counsel’s certification
This is a public interest case and there is no need for a certification, but Justice for Consumers has interviewed to a number of clients of microfinance institutions who are in favor of proceeding with the action.
JUSTICE FOR CONSUMERS
Case No. 01/2012
1. Client Identification, location and relevant case background.
The client, Ms. Gaudensia T. 35 lives in Kampala, the Capital City of Uganda.
Three years have now passed since Gaudensia lost her life savings of Shs 25m to a microfinance institution ironically named Caring for Orphans, Widows and Elderly (COWE), which was in effect a Ponzi scheme.
To date, Gaudensia has requested assistance from 69 different government agencies, seeking justice and compensation for her savings that was stolen when COWE imploded and executives fled with clients’ money, but no assistance was forthcoming from government. In fact, one office even declared Gaudensia insane and involuntarily committed her to a mental institution in Butabika, Uganda.
In November of 2006, Gaudensia withdrew her money from Centenary Bank and transferred it to COWE drawn by an attractive interest rate. She learned of COWE in the Kabale district in and began saving with it. Because COWE’s stated objectives were to assist the disadvantaged, she had hoped that COWE would help her and her dependants. COWE shut its doors in February 2007 and by then Gaudensia had invested all her savings in COWE (which was not licensed by the Central Bank to accept the public’s savings).
COWE operated in such a way that one was required to buy coupons worth Shs65, 000 and pay Shs1, 000 for bank charges. Clients would then receive interest on coupons and the more coupons one bought, the more the interest earned.
At the time of COWE’s closure, Gaudensia had purchased 379 coupons. When COWE closed, an announcement was made informing clients to go to COWE’s premises and withdraw their savings. When Gaudensia reached COWE, however, the staff would not effect any withdrawals, and in had effect fled the premises.
When Gaudensia walked around, she met another individual she knew who worked with COWE. She asked what was going on and the ex employee informed Gaudensia that the brancoordinator had told employees to vacate the building so that clients would not question them. She gave Gaudensia the coordinator’s number and disappeared. When Gaudensia talked to the coordinator on phone, she told the coordinator that her sister was sick and she needed money to get her medication. The coordinator however responded that Gaudensia’s problems were not of her concern.
From the time the coordinator disappeared, Gaudensia has been forced to abandon her Bachelor of Commerce studies at Makerere University, her dependants have had to sell land in order to survive, and she depends entirely on relatives for survival.
Gaudensia went to many other offices like police, Impact Radio, Churches, Bank of Uganda (BOU) among others. Most of the people she talked to were familiar with COWE, but none were willing to take a stand against it. Several persons claimed there were ‘big people’ involved in the ownership of COWE and said it would be hard for her to get justice.
The governor at BOU wrote a letter advising Gaudensia to take the matter to Criminal Investigations Directorate, thus Gaudensia went to the Central Police Station (CPS). At CPS, she was not asked to write a statement like she expected. She talked to the Liaison Officer and as she was waiting, another policeman took her to a room where Gaudensia encountered a woman filling out a form. Gaudensia would later discover that this form was for her own commitment to an institution for the mentally disturbed. Gaudensia was then put in the back of a police car and taken to Butabika, a hospital for the mentally ill.
At the hospital, she was admitted and given a uniform. Gaudensia continued to insist to hospital administrators that she was not crazy , she kept on telling the administrators that but no one believed her. She was forced to take an unidentified medication that was provided to all patients. Gaudensia said “It was a very difficult time; I used to hide the tablets under my tongue and spit them when no one was watching. But one day the personnel stayed around and I was forced to swallow the tablets. The moment I did, my tongue was paralyzed. I kept on dodging the medicine like that until after one and half months when I was allowed to leave.”
2. Legal issue (s)presented:
This is a case involving false imprisonment whereby Gaudensia was confined to a mental hospital against her will and without being a danger to herself or others.
It appears that the owners of COWE are linked to the political establishment, but the veil can be lifted by a court of law and the responsible parties can be forced to pay damages to Gaudensia.
3. Why the client requires legal aid:
Gaudensis has no source of income. As she indicated, she lives on the assistance from relatives. Her case requires legal fees, as well as evidence from the mental institution in order to institute legal proceedings againest the Atorney General and also COWE. This also involves hiring a private investigator to access the necessary documentary evidence. Gaudensia has already tried to access documents without success.
4. Counsel’s advocacy strategy:
Our strategy is to get documentary evidence through a private investigator and then proceed to file a case in court. The limitation period is about to set in.
5. Assistance requested from local Counsel from lawyers in other Jurisdictions:
A) Funding for the following;
i) Fees for the private investigator
ii) Legal costs for counsel including transport and honorarium
iii) Court filling fees
6. Counsel’s certification
Guadensia is comfortable with her information being shared. It has actually already been published in the local media, but GALA prefers to use only the first names of clients in an attempt to shield them from unnecessary intrusions on their privacy.