Dar es Salaam — IN what looks like an attempt by religions to venture into businesses, the Roman Catholic Church in Tanzania officially launched its first ever commercial bank - Mkombozi - last week, amid promises of serving all people regardless of one's denomination.
Dar es Salaam Archbishop Polycarp Cardinal Pengo described the bank as the church's strategy to bridge the widening gap between growing responsibilities and dwindling resources.
He said the church has for over a century been solely depending on aids from the Vatican, noting however that the reduction of aids since the 1960s has necessitated the church to look for local alternatives of funding its projects.
Cardinal Pengo invited all people -Christians, Muslims, pagans - to open bank accounts with Mkombozi, assuring that the new bank will not be operated religiously, but will adhere to the banking rules and regulations.
The bank, which has been operational since last August, has its services accessed countrywide through the Automated Teller Machines (ATMs) manned by other banks - Azania Bancorp, Tanzania Investment Bank, Twiga Bancorp, Dar es Salaam Community Bank, BOA, Akiba Commercial Bank, Uchumi, Tanzania Women Bank and Access Bank.
"Through our unity with other banks, Mkombozi Bank customers will be able to deposit and withdraw money from our partners scattered countrywide," the Bank Executive Director, Ms Edwina Lupembe said.
She said that the bank is already connected to SWIFT and TISS to easy the sending of money within and outside the country, noting that the bank expects to build other branches in the city before expanding to the upcountry regions.
The CEO said the bank has an initial capital of 6.5b/- raised from local civil societies and individual Tanzanians, noting that during the short period that the bank has been in business, it has seen its assets growing to 9bn/- from the initial 7bn/-, with 2.8bn/- customer deposits.
Ms Lupembe said the bank gave out loans amounting to 637m/- and invested 6.3bn/- with other banks, during the seven-month period.
The bank offered financial education and business management to its customers, starting with small civil societies, said the CEO, noting that one among the aims of establishing the bank was to support the government efforts against abject poverty in the country.
The bank, the latest entrant in the banking market, will therefore put more emphasis on peasants who are generally alienated from bank services, said Ms Lupembe: "The bank has signed an agreement to give loans to small farmers in the country and support the government's 'Kilimo Kwanza' initiative."
She invited potential customers to open accounts with the bank, saying only 13,000/- is required to have an account with the bank.
Cardinal Pengo said the bank was just one among many projects - universities, schools, hospitals, farms - that the church operates in the country: "The church believes that if it has to serve the people well, these kind of projects are inevitable."
Officiating at the launching ceremony in Dar es Salaam, retired President Ali Hassan Mwinyi challenged other religions in the country to emulate the Catholics, saying with many commercial banks coming up, people will have good services, get employment and the government will be able to collect more taxes.
"What has impressed me most is to hear that this bank has been established using resources of Tanzanians, without aids from foreigners," Mr Mwinyi said, before opening a saving account with the bank.