20th ANNIVERSARY OF THE NATIONAL BANK OF COMMERCE

(Extracts from an article in ‘Habari’ the journal of the Svensk-Tanzaniska Foreningen translated by J. Roger Carter)

Tanzania’s sole state-owned commercial bank, the National Bank of Commerce recently celebrated its 20th anniversary. The Bank was established as a sequel to the Arusha Declaration by the nationalisation of the existing foreign commercial banks. The largest of these were Barclays Bank, the Standard Bank and National and Grindlays Bank. In addition there were certain Indian banks, the Bank of India and the Bank of Baroda together with a number of small establishments of various ownership.

The Bank had, among other things, invited to its celebrations certain foreign guests among whom were to be found some of us ‘faithful servants’ from the Nordic countries.

It was a fantastic week. The programme included everything an old friend of Tanzania could hope for. Visits to game parks, cultural events, social gatherings and last, but not least, opportunities for discussion about the Bank’s achievements in the last 20 years and its prospects in the difficult economic circumstances in which Tanzania finds itself.

The Bank’s growth has been tremendous. Before nationalisation there were about 50 branches mainly concentrated in the main towns supplemented by ‘mobile branches’, vehicles that drove around smaller places one or more times a week. Now there is an established representative and one or more branches in every district in the country. In addition, there continue to be a large number of mobile branches serving the smaller localities.

This expansion has naturally created a big demand for staff training and development. The initial internship scheme has grown considerably and the Bank now operates its own college in Iringa. Side by side with this, and for higher training there is the Institute of Finance Management which operates in conjunction with the country’s public financial institutions.

The Bank’s personnel appear, however, to be unusually stable with little turnover. It was extremely satisfying to return after nearly 20 years and find so many old colleagues still in post. Many of our erstwhile young friends have now developed both in experience and stature and become important personalities in the Bank. This is important for the branches where so much of the activity of the Bank rests on knowledge of people, confidential and personal contacts, not least where foreign business is involved.

A great deal of the merit for these developments must be attributed to the present Chairman of the Bank, Ambassador Amon J. Nsekela. Under his leadership there has grown up an atmosphere and working conditions in the Bank, which have clearly proved stimulating for the staff.

The rapid expansion has also caused difficulties with the handling of the growing volume of transactions. All of us who have stood in the queue at the Bank’s counter seeking attention for the withdrawal of part of our balances know this situation well. One must, however, have some understanding of the need for a control mechanism that ensures reasonable security. The absence of a functioning communication system, not to mention mechanised accounting techniques, preclude an effective banking system of the kind to which we are accustomed. Add to this the fact that the tendency towards pilfering, unfortunately present also among certain members of the staff, can be substantial in a community living on the fringes of poverty and one has much of the explanation for the, at times, cumbersome and time-consuming procedures with which the Bank’s customers are confronted.

One of the Bank’s present problems is to decide precisely what technical apparatus it should now go in for. Accounting and book-keeping in general are not yet computerised. Old fashioned recording equipment of the fifties and sixties continues to be used. The problem is that servicing and spare parts are no longer available. One is compelled to go over to something else. Should one computerise in a society in which the infrastructure, energy supplies etc. are so unreliable? Otherwise, how can one manage to tackle the constantly increasing volume of transactions? That is bound to be one of the big questions for the coming years.
Sven Ohlund

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