US$10m youth fund invokes sense of deja vu

WHILE the abuse of funds under the US$10 million Youth Fund remains fresh in the memory, government this week unveiled another US$10 million empowerment programme for youths, women and the disabled.

Candid Comment by Stewart Chabwinja

The concept of youth empowerment is a noble one, given that this constituency, along with women and the disabled, constitutes a large chunk of Zimbabwe’s unemployment rate estimated at about 90%.

There was much in the way of the standard fare of politically-laden verbiage accompanying the launch of the Localised Empowerment and Acceleration Facility (Leaf), including expectations of “enhancing economic participation by local communities for increased localised production” to “effectively contribute to achieving the ZimAsset vision”.

“Leaf will also effectively engage and begin to provide some remedy to the challenging unemployment levels in the country,” trumpeted Vice-President Phelekezela Mphoko.

That is unrealistically optimistic, dissembling even, for US$10 million is a drop in the ocean in an imploding economy that needs about US$27 billion to fix through government’s economic blueprint, ZimAsset.

The Youth Fund made headlines not for exemplar beneficiaries that put their loans to productive use, the alleviation of youth unemployment or “acceleration of economic empowerment”. Instead, it scandalously became synonymous with abuse, the stench emitted by consumptive behavior that included bling, distribution along party affiliation and a default rate of 78% forcing its summary suspension.

As the fund was a partnership between government and financial institutions, the money disbursed as loans was essentially public funds, but the scheme came in handy for Zanu PF as the empowerment project became a handy, vote-baiting tool.

It is auspicious that government has reportedly instituted strict measures that would hopefully keep the looting and entitlement culture firmly in check.

But regrettably, there has been much talk of fighting the country’s endemic corruption which has not translated into action, chiefly due to patronage on which the ruling elite thrives.

Former youth minister Saviour Kasukuwere has sympathy for the loan defaulters, insisting they must not be stigmatised. Apparently, if he has his way, the defaulters would go scot-free because “it’s not a crime to borrow and even elderly people borrow as well”.

Kasukuwere was speaking at the launch of Leaf, facilitated by the Finance ministry and Reserve Bank of Zimbabwe.

“The young people in this country ever since we launched the US$10-million fund have had to stand a barrage of criticism, attacks and being made to look like criminals. The youths must be helped to stand up on their feet …”

How? Surely not by throwing more public funds at them, no strings attached?

Due to the timing, it is hoped that the new fund, Leaf, does not mutate into a fig-leaf for political expedience ahead of the 2018 general elections.

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