THE Society for the Promotion of Human Rights (Proham) expresses deep concern over the news that a private commercial company might take over the operations and ownership of Amanah Ikhtiar Malaysia (AIM). One reason cited in the news is the difficulties AIM is facing in repaying a government loan. The private company is said to make a commitment in repaying the outstanding sum in full.AIM started in 1986 as an action research project on micro lending among women based on the Grameen Bank model. This project was undertaken by the USM Policy Research Centre led by Prof David Gibbions and Prof Sukhor Kassim with the support of the Islamic Economic Development Foundation and the Selangor government.Eventually the pilot project was consolidated in 1988 and institutionalised as AIM under the Trustee Incorporation Act. It grew to become the largest micro-credit and business development program among poor women in Malaysia. AIM has more than 380,000 women who are called Sahabat and part of the five member self-help groups. AIM has an excellent repayment track record of close to 95%. AIM also has a well tested group guarantee scheme with five members in a group and a number of self-help groups form a centre where compulsory weekly meets are held. They start with micro loans of RM2,000 and below and move up to more than RM20,000. Repayments are collected weekly at the group meeting.AIM as an institution is well distributed in 136 districts in all the states in Malaysia and they have about 2,400 field staff members, a majority of whom are women. The AIM Sahabat collectively have established a cooperative called Koop Sahabat Amanah Ikhtiar. The members savings are mobilised and they have over RM500 million in the cooperative. The cooperative employs about 170 workers and about 60% are women. They undertake business activities and dividends are paid to members for their saving-investments. Government has provided funds to AIM to reach out to the poorest women and to empower them through self-help, self-reliance, savings mobilisation to start micro business and to move out of poverty. There are many academic studies which provides empirical evidence to the success of this group guarantee scheme. Government is said to have provided soft loans too to AIM for relending to members.Questions before usThere are a number of unanswered questions, which should be answered due to the public interest of this case: Why would the trustees surrender AIM to a private commercial enterprise? Who are they and how are they appointed? Who appoints the chair? Who do they represent? Who are they accountable to? Are they accountable to the Sahabat of AIM? Are there representatives of the Finance Ministry and the Economic Planning Unit (EPU) in the AIM board of trustees? Why is AIM unable to repay its soft loans when the women are repaying weekly? How is the AIM managed? Why is it unable to manage its loan profile in the same way that they collect the repayments from poor women? Is the ministry recalling the outstanding RM600 million? What is the real reason for the takeover by a commercial private sector company, which does not have the Grameen experience of lending?Proham’s concern from a human rights perspective This matter is of public interest as the lives of more than 380,000 women and their families will be directly affected. This matter must be viewed from a human rights perspective as the right to development approach. Proham calls on the federal government to establish an independent inquiry committee made up of representative from the Finance, Rural Development, Entrepreneurship and Cooperative Development Ministries, the EPU and academics who have been researching poverty and a member of the Human Rights Commission. The inquiry committee could make recommendations on how best to address these issues and if AIM could be placed under a cooperative framework as there would be greater transparency and accountability to the women who have been part of AIM over the years. It is said that “Malaysia provides solid evidence that microfinance is indeed an effective tool for poverty alleviation” (Siwar Chamhuri 2000: 191). AIM has shown that the poor can be trusted and are bankable even without collateral other than their trustworthiness. – March 1, 2021.* Michael Yeoh, Denison Jayasooria, Khoo Ying Hooi and Lin Mui Kiang are part of Proham, an organisation established by former Suhakam and Royal Police Commission commissioners. * This is the opinion of the writer or publication and does not necessarily represent the views of The Malaysian Insight.
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