Editor's Comment

Youths must repay loans

ZAMBIA is awash with empowerment funds administered by local and international organisations.

Empowerment funds are usually designed for marginalised youths and women for them to participate in the economic growth of the country.
It is not a secret that youths constitute the majority of our population.
Given that youths constitute the majority of the growing population, it is almost impossible to employ all of them – be it school-leavers or indeed college or university graduates.
This is so because the number of secondary schools, colleges and universities has increased tremendously.
The increase is in sync with the population boom and is a response to the demand for secondary and tertiary education.
Gone are the days when districts used to have a secondary school each. And gone are the days when this country just had two public universities and a college in each provincial headquarter.
Now, every district has more than five secondary schools. The number of colleges and universities has also increased tremendously to cater for the growing demand for education.
As a result, Zambia has more school-leavers as well as college and university graduates than ever before.
This places a huge premium on Government to provide employment. Because Government cannot absorb all youths, this has turned out to be unemployment.
Government, donors and well-wishers acknowledge that it is practically impossible to employ every youth in the country.
That is why the International Labour Organisation has been working with Government to help youths change their mind-set from aspiring for formal employment to becoming self-employed or indeed becoming employers.
While some youths are willing to be their own employers, they lack access to credit.
Most banks in the country are not willing to give youths loans because they regard them as a risky clientele group because they have no clientele.
Because youths have no access to credit facilities, Government has taken up the challenge of offering our youths credit under the Youth Empowerment Fund (YEF).
In 2012, the ministry paid out K45,765,772 in loans under the Youth Empowerment Fund to 1,185 youth associations, but only K2,272,401.81 was recovered as of November 3, 2017.
However, it is disheartening to learn that the Ministry of Youth and Sport, which administers the YEF, has not recovered over K43 million it gave out as loans to youth groups.
More worrying is the poor repayment of the loans by most youths who deliberately perceive the money as a gift from Government.
Youths were told when applying for the funds that they needed to pay back because there is a long list of their colleagues waiting to access the same funds.
These funds are not from a bottomless pit but the treasury, and Government has to account for this hard-earned money. This is taxpayers’ money. Money for the country.
These are supposed to be revolving funds so that when youths who receive them first pay back, others can access them too.
Failure to pay is deliberate and speaks of insincerity by the youths, who are future leaders. If they can fail to pay back empowerment funds, how will this country entrust them with bigger responsibilities?
On the other hand, the ministry of Youth and Sport should come up with stringent mechanisms for awarding these funds.
Project proposals should be thoroughly screened by a panel of experts. Youths who aspire to benefit from the empowerment funds should be mentored so that their proposals are refined.
They should then be monitored strictly to ensure that the funds are put to the intended use.
In the absence of capacity to scrutinise proposals, mentoring and monitoring, the Ministry should outsource institutions specialised in those areas to administer the YEF on its behalf.

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