Phiona K (other name withheld on request) is a business consultant that frequently uses public transport buses to move around Kigali while meeting her clients.
She purchased a Tap&Go card and loads money that can take her through a month.
“I once topped up Rwf7500 onto the card and traveled only once from Kanombe to the city centre and back,” Phiona told Taarifa on Monday, adding, “after one month, I went to board the bus but when I tapped on the bus gadget, it indicated that there was no money of the card. I was embarrassed.”
Phiona has never had any answers to where the balance of Rwf7000 on the card went? Why was it taken and how did all that happen, “nobody ever borrowed my card,” she wonders.
Phiona is not alone in this situation, several other holders of Tap&Go cards have varying experiences on how their money on the cards gets lost in a mysterious manner yet they cannot ask anyone anywhere.
For the past one year, Taarifa has been investigating this sensitive issue and we bring you details of the findings.
According to AC Group, a local technology company specialising in smart transport solutions, it distributes Tap&Go cards; there are two million cards in circulation. Agents across several spots at bus-stops and terminals can be found selling cards to commuters.
For the past five years, the agents have been collecting cash from commuters seeking to top-up their Tap&Go cards. Top-up cash alone is valued in billions of francs per month, but AC Group Company remains tight on revealing figures.
However, Taarifa has noticed that on average every card has a balance of Rwf2,000; meaning that there can be a total of Rwf4billion of unclaimed balance on the two million Tap&Go cards at some point in time.
In one of the rules of operating an escrow account, according to Central Bank regulatory requirements, a company is supposed to file daily reports indicating financial records and recoconcillaitions for purposes of accountability and protecting the public from fraud.
According to commuters interviewed by Taarifa in the past one year, they complain that they top-up for weekly rides but the money lasts only 3-4 days.
It is not known who keeps this money. Who earns interest on this money, and to which bank account it is kept if it’s on an escrow account or the company account.
In case of an escrow account, who has oversight on this money? And one would ask are all deposits and withdrawals accounted for? Are weekly, monthly or annual reports filed with any a government agency?
However, Patrick Buchana, the CEO AC Group, told Taarifa in an exclusive interview on August 1, “Balance on Tap&Go cards doesn’t belong to bus companies. Money is kept in an escrow account and there are rules governing escrow accounts which we follow.”
The Rwf 4 billion continuous float is un-managed, unsupervised, and un-accounted for. We don’t know who is benefiting from the interest, while the Rwandan public is left out in the cold.
Taarifa also observed that several commuters have lost their cards loaded with money. Since the cards are not registered to holders, they forfeit the money. Nobody knows where this money goes since the company has a complex database.
Meanwhile, bus companies say that AC Group company intentionally refused to implement the requirements in the agreement with which they operate this deal.
As per the Memorandum of Understanding with the three bus operators in Kigali, AC Group was supposed to install Passenger Counters and CCTV cameras in each bus in Kigali three years ago. This would allow the bus operators to cross-check the number of passengers boarding each bus and tally it with the Tap&Go bus ticketing.
In the agreement also, AC Group would install digital head counters for purposes of transparency in numerical reconciliations at a time of disbursing revenues to bus companies.
None of all that has been done. Taarifa has obtained documents indicating that AC Group, bus companies, and Rwanda Regulatory Authority (RURA) have been holding meetings for years, but matters not resolved.
In some of the paper exchanges, bus companies threatened AC Group with severe actions including withdrawing some revenue sharing rights and canceling some of the contractual benefits.
According to a service contract signed on March 15, 2016, between AC Group Ltd and Rwanda Federation of Transport Cooperatives (RFTC), one of the main operative provisions among the responsibilities of the supplier indicates, “the supplier will provide cameras and sensors mounted on the bus within two months and four months of the contract date respectively.”
However, these systems were never installed by AC Group and there is no explanation. Who benefits if the bus operators have no idea of the number of passengers that board each bus? Has this been done intentionally to manipulate the number of tickets shown by AC Group?
When asked about the demise of bus companies, a former manager of one of the buses who preferred to remain anonymous, he said, “you can’t do nothing, that company is owned by very powerful people with big connections in the system.”