Stealing in the name of “youth empowerment”

Maxwell Chongo is known to many as a PF thug; and indeed he is a thug. But behind this thug lies a human being that is wise enough to distinguish right from wrong. Desperation to feed his family from being a full time party cadre may force him to break a few laws or a few people’s teeth, but we do notice some of the important questions that he raises from time to time.

Since he established himself as a ‘youth without portfolio’ in the Patriotic Front under the Orange.com movement, Max has survived a lot of tribulations, some of which have been as a result of his failure to shut up when he sees something going wrong within his party. At one point, his life was almost terminated because he went against one faction of the ruling party and ended up spending the entire 2016 election period behind prison bars.

Anyway, we are not here to hero-worship this PF cadre, and he doesn’t really deserve our praise, but we would like to point at one issue, among many, that he raised last year, before he was condemned for speaking like a member of the opposition party.

Two days ago, Ministry of Youth, Sport and Child Development Minister Honourable Moses Mawere announced that government had with immediate effect withdrawn 25 commuter buses from the Public and Private Drivers Association of Zambia (PPDAZ) due to abuse. According to the Minister, the buses which were handed to the association as a loan, facilitated by the government, were not serving the intended purpose.

Max Chongo raised this concern many months ago is his usual ranting about youth empowerment and job scarcity. “Selfishness and greed by a selected few individuals should never be allowed to destroy our party’s relationship with the grassroots, putting the name of the PF and that of our President in direct firing range of public ridicule,” said Chongo.

There are more interesting questions that Max Chongu is asking about this deal:
“Who has been benefiting from these buses?
Where is the revenue that was being collected from the buses?
Who was in charge of collecting this revenue?
In what account were the proceeds from these buses deposited and how much has been raised so far?
Who were the signatories to this bank account?
How much money was raised in total and how much was paid towards the loan?
Who registered these buses and in whose names were they operating?
What criteria did they use when distributing these buses to the youths?”

These are very critical questions that government must answer. But the problem, actually, is bigger than finding answers to these questions. The real problem is separating the operations of government from the ruling party. When you look at the questions that Max Chongu is asking and what concerns him about this deal, you find that he is worried that grassroots members of the Patriotic Front did not benefit much from the empowerment programme.

The manner in which these buses were distributed to beneficiaries and the manner in which they have been withdrawn shows that it was a programme for the ruling party and its cadres. In fact, the reason why Max Chongu and other aggrieved PF youths were questioning the implementation of this empowerment programme is because they were of firm belief that former Lusaka Province PF Chairman Kennedy Kamba was chewing proceeds of this project alone.

This has been a serious campaign issue for the intra-party elections of the ruling PF. Those who are against the election of Kamba as their provincial leader are pushing the argument that he didn’t allow as many PF youths to benefit from projects such as the buses and they want to elect someone who will share the proceeds equitably.

Dear readers, these buses which have been withdrawn did not belong to the Patriotic Front. This was not a PF empowerment programme. The buses were meant to benefit all the vulnerable youths, regardless of party affiliation. By saying this, we are not trying to exonerate Mr Kennedy Kamba, no! Although Mr Kamba can today duck the bullet by saying the buses did not belong to the party, he knows in his heart that they were abused as such under his reign.

But our point is that this Higer bus scandal shows how the people of Zambia are deprived of what is dully entitled to them when a government is hijacked by the ruling party. Criminal elements have taken advantage of a compromised system to erase the line that separates the government from the party so that what belongs to the State can appear as if it belongs to them and what they do illegally can get the blessings of the State.

If there was transparency in the manner that the bus programme was conducted, government was not going to have a headache over the abuse. Specific individuals responsible for the implementation were going to be answerable. If money was not being banked, accountants of this so-called association of private drivers were going to be taken to task. In fact, this was going to be an issue between Higer Bus Company Limited and PPDAZ, the association that signed the loan agreement.

The Zambian people need to know that this association was a conduit for theft and abuse of office by individuals who hold positions of power both in government and the ruling party. If this loan agreement was between government and Higer, why didn’t the Ministry of Youth and Sport use its existing structures to implement the programme and monitor the proceeds? And if the loan agreement was between Higer and PPDAZ, where does this minister get the authority to withdraw the buses from the loan beneficiaries?

Like Max Chongu rightly pointed out, this has been a scheme of selfish and greedy individuals who are using the poor and vulnerable in society to get rich. They lie to donors and international companies that they are soliciting money for youth empowerment, yet they want to over-empower themselves. This Higer bus loan stinks corruption and abuse of office and the responsible criminals know themselves. Shame on you!

         

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