The first-ever Insurance Appeals Tribunal board has been inaugurated to ease the complaint-handling process in Uganda. This creates another layer in the process, hitherto served through a complaints desk at the Insurance Regulatory Authority, IRA, and the commercial court.
Apart from easing the burden on the IRA and the commercial court, the Tribunal also helps build confidence in the insurance industry, a key factor in deepening the insurance penetration in the country. Uganda has one of the lowest insurance penetration rates in the world now at 0.77 per cent compared to Kenya’s 2.3 and Rwanda’s 1.6 per cent, though ahead of Tanzania’s 0.54 per cent.
IRA Chief Executive Officer Ibrahim Kaddunabbi Lubega says this move will help the IRA Complaints Bureau be more aware when handling complaints, knowing that their decision can be challenged.
Lubega says the number of complaints has reduced over the last five years, adding that the tribunal should reduce the number of cases being filed at the high court, especially as the court process is long, expensive and tedious.
Rita Namakiika Nangono, the Chairperson of the tribunal says the creation of the tribunal could attract more people to the industry as it creates some trust. Nangono says that theirs is an appellate body and will only listen to cases that have been determined at the IRA Bureau if the parties to the conflict are not satisfied.
Justice Stephen Mubiru, the Head of the Commercial Division of the High Court welcomed the creation of the tribunal saying it will help reduce the backlog at the court. As of September 30, there were a total of 2,297 cases and out of them, only 24 are from the insurance sector, showing that the insurance sector does not produce many cases.
This means that even when they are few, their handling is delayed by the high number of cases from other sections of the commercial cases. Justice Mubiru says, however, that the insurance industry usually produces high-value cases.
While the number accounts for just one per cent of the total number, in terms of value, they account for about a quarter. He says this is why the tribunal is important because it will help avoid tying huge cash in court cases for long.
Mubiru says most of the cases from the insurance industry are about the interpretation of the contracts or the policies because most people do not read all that is contained therein. This has also been presented as a major source of conflict and loss of trust in the industry by the public, who feel that insurance is a fraud.
Justice Mubiru also says that one issue he has with the insurance companies is that they do not handle clients on an individual or personal basis but set policies that are uniform across all the clients.
This makes the public sometimes feel unfairly treated when a dispute arises.
Ms Nangono, the Chairperson, says they expect the number of disputes to the tribute to increase as more people get aware of the resolution mechanisms available, but adds that this will be for the good of the industry because then, it will create more trust.
Nangono is an Advocate of the High Court in private practice and a member of several boards, as well as the immediate past Honorary Secretary of the Law Society.