14 May 2017

Zimbabwe: Ministers Fingered in Youth Fund Saga

Millions of dollars under the Youth Development Fund have gone down the drain, looted by youths from mostly Zanu PF and MDC-T who fooled the banks with phantom project proposals to get money from the fund.

An estimated $40 million was disbursed by CABS, Stanbic Bank, CBZ, and IDBZ to support youths to embark on income-generating projects since 2012.

But it came out last week during visits to the "projects" by the Parliamentary Portfolio Committee on Youth and Indigenisation that most of them were a ruse and non-existent.

In Matabeleland North, particularly in Victoria Falls, people did not mince their words and fingered Economic Development minister Obert Mpofu as having used his influence to get his relatives to benefit from the fund.

MPs discovered 15 beneficiaries used the Mpofu surname, with residents in the resort town claiming they suspected many of them were related to the minister.

Youths got away with as much as $5 000 each, taking advantage of the weak fund management and supervision by the ministry of Youth, the banks involved and other organisations which were supposed to superintend over the projects. Many gave false addresses to avoid follow ups.

The Youth Committee MPs visited some of the given addresses only to find that they were non-existent.

A visit by the Justice Wadyajena (Gokwe Nembudziya MP)-led committee to projects in Local Government, Saviour Kasukuwere's (pictured right) home area of Mount Darwin on Friday revealed pitiful and non-existent projects.

The tour of the projects was supported by the Southern Africa Parliamentary Support Trust (Sapst).

Mount Darwin district youth officer, Marine Chafurama was at pains to explain what happened to the over $1 million disbursed to Mashonaland Central youths. One beneficiary, Nicholas Mutasha who secured a loan of $600, only had a few bananas and less than 10 packets of dried vegetables at his market stall.

"I got the $600 loan in 2012 and started selling fruits and vegetables. There is profit but money is difficult to get so I used the profit," explained Mutasha, who failed to produce receipts to prove his claims that he repaid the loan.

The Youth Development Fund has a more than 80% default rate.

Chafurama said the high default rate was because of the false names and addresses and lack of vehicles for youth officers to monitor the projects.

When asked to produce receipts and records of youths given the loans in Mount Darwin, Chafuruma said she was only deployed in January and her predecessor had not done a proper hand-over to her.

"The projects collapsed due to lack of relevant skills training and most projects created employment only for the proprietors and their immediate families. Proprietors of poorly performing projects said the money granted by the bank was inadequate," Chafaruma said.

She said some people who had performing projects simply did not want to pay back, adding there was lack of will to invoke legal proceedings on defaulting beneficiaries.

Mashonaland Central Province Youth Development Officer Byl Manyange said 467 loans amounting to $667 335 were issued in Bindura (101), Centenary (21), Mazowe (100), Guruve (44), Rushinga (32), Mount Darwin (91), Mbire (42), and Shamva (36).

"The number of projects submitted to CABS was 467 amounting to $667 335 and repayments to date are only $246 417. CBZ applications were 176 but projects funded were 190 because some did not go through the ministry amounting to $261 560, but CBZ and IDBZ are not submitting updates on repayments. IDBZ had 94 applicants and 87 projects were approved at $79 800," Manyange said.

Kasukuwere's sister Dadirayi was given $3 000 from the youth fund, but has not paid anything back.

When MPs visited her purported cement-selling project, they found an empty place at the back of her husband's surgery where it was said she was operating from.

Although the committee is on a fact-finding mission, investigating the successes or failures of the youth projects, some youths in Bindura perceived the visits as a witch-hunt by Wadyajena on Kasukuwere.

During a public hearing at Tendai Hall in Bindura, angry Kasukuwere supporters threatened Wadyajena, saying he was on a political agenda.

Although a few youths contributed during the public hearing, Zanu PF factionalism reared its ugly head when one of the youths approached Wadyajena, pointing threatening fingers at him and hitting at the table where MPs were seated, saying that Wadyajena had been sent on a political mission.

"You are chairing this committee and we know you have differences with Kasukuwere. Why didn't you as Parliament come to investigate the issue in 2012? Why now?" shouted one angry youth.

Another also pointed threatening fingers at Wadyajena, saying his fights with Kasukuwere were fights with President Robert Mugabe.

"We know you have been sent on a political agenda, but we will embarrass you," one of the rowdy youths shouted as he was whisked away and thrown out of the meeting by riot police.

MPs and Wadyajena had to be escorted out of the building by police as the atmosphere became volatile.

However, youths who managed to make their contributions said they submitted proposals but did not get anything. Some said they suspected other people could have got the funds on their behalf.

A man who identified himself as Muzenda said banks must explain how much was disbursed and the names of the beneficiaries.

"As Parliament, you spent a whole four years without making your investigations. Do not come here on a fact-finding mission; give us solutions. There is $15 billion missing from Chiadzwa and out of that $1 billion was supposed to be for the youths," he said.

People complained that some beneficiaries were older than the cut off age of 35 years.

Sport minister Makhosini Hlongwane was given $32 380 from a Stanbic youth loan when he was 38 years old.

Wadyajena said the threats in Bindura would not deter him and the committee from doing Parliament duties.

"They can threaten all they like but I have a mandate from the people of Nembudziya and as the chairperson of the committee to fulfil Parliament obligations. This investigation has nothing to do with Kasukuwere and that's why we are going to all parts of the country," Wadyajena said.

He said the quality of the projects visited throughout the country were poor or non-existent.

"Most beneficiaries abused the funds while others say it was allocated on political party lines," Wadyajena said.

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