Youth disillusioned as empowerment fund is looted

A BIRD’S eye view over Harare reveals a blanket of minute stalls stacked with second-hand clothes for resale.

BY MICHELLE CHIFAMBA

Desperate, unemployed youths have created informal jobs in the streets as life gradually becomes unbearable for the working population.

The 2012 Population Census recorded that youths aged between 15 and 34 years constitute 84% of the unemployed population.

According to Zimstats, due to high formal unemployment, many of them were now deriving a living from the informal sector.

The Ministry of Youth, Indigenisation and Economic Empowerment in 2006 unveiled the Youth Empowerment Fund established as part of the Old Mutual, Stanbic, Industrial Development Bank of Zimbabwe and CBZ Bank’s contribution to the country’s indigenisation and empowerment programme.

The facility was meant to support youth empowerment and development as a revolving loan facility for income generating projects, according to Old Mutual chief executive officer, Jonas Mushosho.

He noted that the youth fund was flexible and youth friendly in that there was no form of collateral required to access the funds.

CABS head of fund, Brian Mpofu, is on record stating that the fund was aimed at curtailing financial crisis and high rate of unemployment that had crippled the Zimbabwean youth.

Yet almost a decade later, there are a few success stories recorded as the youth fund failed to effectively empower the youth, with an estimated $40 million having disappeared as a result of loosely-knit policies, lack of accountability and corruption.

Corruption is a global problem that affects most developing countries. A United Nations (UN) 2016 study on corruption noted that at least $148 billion is lost to corruption every year in Africa alone.

The Parliamentary Portfolio Committee on Youth Development Indigenisation Economic Empowerment in May this year conducted a fact-finding mission on the youth fund. The mission also confirmed the abuse of $40 million under the empowerment facility.
According to the Committee, at least 95% of the projects visited were either non-existent or had collapsed because they had never been genuine.

Analysts maintain that the funds were too flexible, having no complex terms and conditions attached to the loans. The loans had a non-monitoring and evaluation process making it vulnerable to corruption and misappropriation.

Analysts maintain that the fund, like the land reform programme, was used to win the young people’s support for Zanu PF.

“Leakages were created in the vetting process being done by partisan departments. Youth proposals at district level were vetted by youth officers who were former youth militia. At provincial level those who would have made it were vetted by personal assistants who are party of the state machinery, by the time the bank is given the final list a lot of corrupt activities would have preceded the final choice and the bank has no say,” independent political analyst Sydney Chisi noted.

“The fund is not an empowering tool but a perpetual dependency model where the funds given to the youth are so small all they can do is to spend it. Youth are given a maximum of $5 000 which cannot run any effective project. But some politically linked youth were being given more than $20 000 which was never paid back.”

Zimbabwe National Students Association (Zinasu) national spokesperson, Zivai Mhetu, said misappropriation, abuse of funds and loosely knit policies could all be attributed to corruption.

“As a result of the abuse of funds by both the beneficiaries and the government officials the empowerment program failed to transform the lives of many youth in Zimbabwe,” he said in a statement.

He said through the youth empowerment fund, the government deliberately failed to transform the lives of young people in the country as many youth did not understand business and financial management hence their businesses collapsed in infancy.

“The government should be held accountable through the minister of youth. The way in which the funds were disbursed had no clear protocol or procedure which was supposed to be followed in order to avoid the abuse of funds. In this abuse I would blame the minister of youth for his negligence,” he said.

Chisi noted that looting of the youth fund was part of Zimbabwe’s corrupt governance culture and from the look of things will continue for as long as the funding is associated with elections.

The refusal by the former ministers of youth Saviour Kasukuwere and Francis Nhema to arrest all the fund defaulters clearly shows that this fund is partisan and creates a culture of patronage making the system ungovernable.”

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