SOME SMEs in Lusaka, which were engaged by the Disaster Management and Mitigation Unit (DMMU) to supply face masks for distribution to schools, have complained that government has still not paid them for over two months.

But DMMU national coordinator Chanda Kabwe says all the provinces that supplied face masks have been paid except for North-Western, Central and Copperbelt provinces, which will be paid before the end of September.

Some suppliers complained that they supplied 10,000 masks each to DMMU using loans which they borrowed from micro-finance institutions, but had since failed to repay the debt.

“There was a time when the DMMU wanted some face masks for the students, who were going back to write exams, that was in June. They were trying to empower local marketeers and SMES to make the masks. Can you imagine up-to-date, the DMMU has not paid us. I supplied 10,000 face masks. All the people who supplied from Lusaka haven’t been paid. Last week, the marketeers wanted to protest, but they were stopped from protesting. We have not been paid and it’s almost been three months now. And that’s our livelihoods. Like for me, I am owed K100,000! I supplied 10,000 masks. We were told that the money was there, but they diverted it to something else,” one suppliers, who declined to be named, disclosed.

She wondered why the DMMU had delayed to pay them when they supplied the masks within the requested time.

“I was given a local purchase order and we were supposed to be paid upon delivery. We delivered the masks in June, but they haven’t paid us! And from what we know, the DMMU is one of the institutions that are heavily-funded because it deals with disasters. They are aware they haven’t paid us. We were given an ultimatum to finish making the masks by 26th June and we supplied everything on time, but we haven’t been paid. They wanted chitenge or national colours for the students in examination classes. We were actually conned by Disaster Management by giving us those orders and not paying us for whatever we delivered. We were tricked into delivering things knowing very well that they were not going to make payment to us,” she added.

She complained that the interest on the loan kept rising due to delays in repaying it.

“So, the money that we are going to get today and the money that we should have gotten in the past, over 60 days, is not going to be the same because we have lost out. We used our own money to make those masks. We were not given any down-payment. It was like obtaining goods by false pretences, by tricking us! And we put in all our capital in the same project. When a company is owing you, for us as small-medium (businesses), it has affected me because I don’t have any cash flow. I cannot do any other business, I cannot pay my rentals. I am owing because I had to borrow to make those 10,000 masks. And I borrowed from a micro-finance and the interest is going up,” she lamented.

Another supplier from Lusaka also complained that she supplied 10,000 face masks for K100,000, but had also still not been paid.

“I also haven’t been paid. They said they were going to pay us in the second phase. So, we don’t know when. We are still waiting. I did 10,000 face masks and that K100,000 face masks,” she said.

But Kabwe said that the DMMU never engaged any individual suppliers.

“We, as government, never engaged individual tailors or individual marketeers. As DMMU, we engaged associations and those associations have their members. For example, in Lusaka, we engaged two associations and one of them is ZANAMACA. Those are the ones we had signed contracts with to supply the masks. Again, on the Copperbelt, we engaged associations, who have their membership and these associations have been paid. In terms of us engaging individual tailors, we have never done that. The records are there that all the associations that were engaged have been paid,” Kabwe said in a separate interview.

“Apart from that, DMMU procured some face masks through provincial administrations. And all the provinces were given contracts to supply. And these provinces, we are remaining to pay Copperbelt, North-Western and Central Province. Lusaka and Southern Province are getting their monies today. So, we will remain with Central, North-Western and Copperbelt. Out of the 10 provinces, we are remaining with three provinces to be paid.”

He said those remaining to be paid would get their funds before the end of this month.

“I am not sure if there are some individual tailors that we engaged. Unless individuals with companies, who went to engage with tailors to make masks for them. And for some SMEs that we engaged, if they are coming from those provinces, it could be true that they have not been paid. There are procedures to be followed. So, the procedure for Lusaka was finished and the people of Lusaka should be able to get their money before Friday. And I don’t see how this has become news that everyday people are talking about it. How many people are supplied coffins in government and public institutions and have gone for six months and some one year, but have not been paid? So, everyone should be able to get their money within this month of September,” said Kabwe.