YOUTH, Sport and Arts Minister Elvis Nkandu says his ministry will send out officers to recover loans from the youth empowerment programmes, warning that anyone who fails to pay back will be reported to relevant authorities and prosecuted.

The Auditor General’s Report on accounts of the Republic for the financial year ended December 31, 2020, revealed that the Ministry of Youth, Sport and Child Development implemented youth empowerment programmes totalling K88,916,306 but only K5,947,567 was recovered.

The report revealed that government also disbursed K52,000,000 in form of loans to 2,750 youth groups throughout the country but only K2,800,000 had been recovered.

But in an interview, Nkandu said his ministry expected to make recoveries and would not spare anyone who got money from the empowerment programmes and allocated it to other things.

“I want to assure you that those that got money wherever they are, let them pay back otherwise, we will not spare anyone that got money from the well intended projects for other things. Our intention is to make sure a lot of youths are empowered. That should be a concern to every Zambian. When you dish out taxpayers money on empowerment programmes, I think the primary objective that we have is to start absorbing the unemployment levels that we have in the country. If we start saying a lot of money has not been recovered, it becomes a concern to everyone,” Nkandu said.

“We still have our officers at the ministry who we will send to go and look for those that had acquired these empowerment loans. We expect to make a lot of recoveries. It may not be 100 percent but I know there will be a lot of recoveries that we will make as a ministry because the people that were given money should be located. It is a human being who was dishing out money and those people knew where they were dishing out money so it is just a matter of time. If those that were allocating money cannot find those that benefited, then there must be something wrong with those that were dishing out money. So for now, I know they are still on top of things and they will be looking for these people who got the money.”

Nkandu said individuals who would failed to pay back the loans would be reported to relevant authorities and prosecuted if they squandered the money.

He said most of the empowerment funds were given to PF cadres.

“What is correct is that a large percentage of those empowerment funds was given to the PF. That government was very brutal. It was very difficult even for a professional to give advice. Even where a professional would know that this will not work, they would choose to remain mute. A lot of that money was given to PF cadres. Those people are Zambians at the end of the day. If there are youths, they also have the right to obtain money from the government but the bottom line is that, that was a loan and if it is a loan, people should pay back. If we find that someone cannot pay back, that is why we have these institutions that will look into these issues. We will report them to relevant authorities and they will be prosecuted if they have squandered that money. That money was meant to revolve and also to upgrade people,” he said.

Nkandu said the UPND government would start implementing the empowerment funds as soon as possible.

“It was difficult to differentiate money being given as campaign and empowerment funds because the timing was not good. That is why we need to do things differently. Just after coming into office, we need to start these empowerment funds as soon as possible. Rather than waiting for one year before elections, people will misinterpret the whole thing. People need to be empowered now. We should not wait for election time,” he said.

Nkandu further warned that adults who got money on pretext that they were youths would also not be spared.

“And let me take the opportunity to warn the adults who want to get money out of the youth ministry. There is a clear policy that the people that should be empowered should be 35 and below. After 35, they need to go to the Small and Medium Enterprise Ministry. So those that use youths as a front to acquire empowerment funds, we will not spare those people. The Zambian people should assist the ministry because that is their money. They should not be lying to the ministry that they are 32 and yet they are 50 something. We need youths to be empowered,” said Nkandu.