Past State job plans muddy the waters for Uwezo

Graduands follow proceedings at a past ceremony at a public university. Analysts say public projects are easy prey for half-hearted entrepreneurs. FILE
Graduands follow proceedings at a past ceremony at a public university. Analysts say public projects are easy prey for half-hearted entrepreneurs. FILE 

Past State attempts to build programmes aimed at protecting thousands of young graduates against the pain of joblessness have recorded negligible success.

Several such projects are now skeletons of grand plans while thousands of graduates continue pouring into the jammed job market annually.

According to a last year’s report by the African Development Bank (AfDB), youth joblessness accounts for 70 per cent of total unemployment in Kenya.

Youth projects such as the Youth Enterprise Development Fund (YEDF) and the Kazi kwa Vijana project in 2006 and 2009 respectively by former President Kibaki have done little to correct the imbalance and reduce the sharp pain.

While political manifestos have continually promised to ease the pain, a number have remained more or less grand plans on paper.

A mix of economic headwinds has ensured the pace of job creation does not match the number of new graduates coming out of colleges and universities.

Worse, these graduates are all angling for the existing jobs, showing that there are wide skills gaps despite the billions of shillings spent on higher education.

Sources familiar with youth projects reckon that poor execution and lack of commitment among officials rank among hurdles hindering smooth implementation of the plans. This hurts efforts to empower young people.

From the foregoing, interest groups have been watching the Government since the launch of the Sh6 billion Uwezo fund that targets youth and women. Avoid the path of failure, they have warned, using past projects as a test case.

“Careful planning is needed before the funds start to be administered,” Martin Nkaari, the executive director of Emerging Enterprise Network, a lobby, said in an interview.

Mr Nkaari says the State should strive to exorcise ghosts that have haunted similar for successful take-off of the new project.

In 2009, the Kazi kwa Vijana project was sold as the pipeline through which 300,000 jobs would be generated in six months and the project got Sh15 billion to cover three years.

But graft allegations choked the plan that had attracted the World Bank’s financial backing. As a result, the Bank in 2011 cancelled the Sh4.5 billion it had earmarked following an audit that revealed gross misuse of funds which were in the custody of the former Prime Minister’s office.

The same year the State launched Pasha Centres or digital villages that targeted to finance youth’s ICT-based ventures. Pasha was to open up remote areas to technology and create job market at the grassroots levels.

“A lack of commitment by officials has been the bane of Pasha programme,” Geoffrey Gitau, the chairman of Pasha Association of Kenya (PAK) said, adding that it has failed to address target issues.

Under Pasha, youth could access capital from a revolving fund between Sh500,000 and Sh3 million to be repaid at 10.5 per cent interest.

Remote areas

Though the then custodian Kenya ICT Board trained entrepreneurs prior to funds access, PAK says it did not equip them with right. The ICT Board has been absorbed by the newly formed Kenya ICT Authority.

However, several supposed beneficiaries claim to have had their property auctioned for defaulting, but accused the administrators and intermediary banks, saying three months were too short for a start-up to start repaying the loan.

“The grace period elapsed before I could position myself,” Zacheaus Kubasu, the proprietor of Zacteh ICT Communication Enterprises in Busia County, said.

He claims his stock was seized when he failed to start repaying. He blames his woes on the low demand in the remote areas that made it difficult to break-even.

Some claimed they never received a dime even though the records show they indeed got cash, raising questions about audit of the billions of shillings.

The Youth Enterprise Development Fund has also had its fair share of challenges with applicants citing tedious application process.

“We applied three months ago but have not heard anything to date despite following it up,” Mr Nkaari complained.

The Youth Fund chaired by Gor Semelang’o loans businesses at an interest rate of 8.5 per cent.

Public good

But applicants complain that only a fraction of its funds are lent directly to the youth with the bulk being loaned through banks. Mr Semelang’o puts non-performing loans at about 40 per cent of the Sh5.9 billion it has advanced to 157, 000 entrepreneurs.

StartUpAfrica, a start-up think-tank, says the State must make loan recovery watertight to avoid bad loans.

“Applicants often have wrong perception about State loans. They think it is a public good hence no need to repay,” the executive director Erastus Mong’are said.

After the launch of the sizeable Uwezo, observers are now keen on how the new procurement rule that reserves 30 per of State tenders for the youth will be implemented and whether the fund will pull them out of joblessness.

Mr Nkaari says the interest-free funds under Uwezo and the setting up of committees both at the national and constituency levels to oversee implementation could lead to success.