Robin Muchetu, Senior Reporter
THE Government has launched an investigation into the alleged abuse of funds that were availed as safety nets for Covid-19 affected groups after it emerged that Government officials, Members of Parliament and civil servants, among them teachers were receiving the money ahead of intended beneficiaries.
Without revealing names, sources said some MPs and civil servants allegedly connived with officials from the Department of Social Welfare to register as vulnerable people in order to access the money.
To mitigate the effects of Covid-19, the Government availed funds under different categories that were meant to help businesses and individuals affected by the pandemic.
As part of the programme was the $17 million fund which was meant to assist Small to Medium Enterprises (SME) and the $20 million for Sports and Arts sectors as part of the Covid-19 stimulus and recovery package, among others.
The Government has also been paying selected vulnerable families through the Department of Social Welfare $1 500 per month to cushion them from the effects of the pandemic and lockdown.
However, it has emerged that some Government officials who were in charge of distributing the money registered themselves and their relatives to benefit from some facilities, drawing the attention of top Government officials.
Local Government and Public Works Minister Cde July Moyo confirmed that a random check with the Department of Social Welfare revealed that senior Government officials and civil servants were among beneficiaries of the monies availed by the Government.
“We probed the Department of Social Welfare on where they had got names of people who were supposed to benefit from the relief funds availed by the Government. Some of our own leaders, teachers and Members of Parliament were on those lists. What we felt was that the officers at the department were also taking advantage of the situation by also manipulating the system and if confronted they would finger-point these top officials who appear on the lists,” he said.
Finance and Economic Development Minister Professor Mthuli Ncube said he has received complaints about the abuse of the money and an audit will be carried out.
“This is a scam, we need to access the names of beneficiaries and compare it with the actual database that is in place at the Department of Social Welfare and see where the problem is emanating from. The benefit for vulnerable members of the community started at $300 and we raised it to $600 and now we are raising it to $1 500. We want our elderly to get this fund not for them to be cheated out of their benefits,” he said.
In some areas, SMEs who applied for the relief fund failed to access the money. Minister of Women’s Affairs, Community and Small and Medium Enterprise Development Dr Sithembiso Nyoni said she has received reports from SMEs that very few members managed to access the money.
“This cushion was introduced by the President to cushion SMEs, vendors and the elderly. We asked people to register through their associations to benefit. All names, however, went through the Department of Social Welfare.
Everywhere where I am going the real beneficiaries are saying they never received the funds. A large portion is saying they never got the funds. We do hope an investigation will get to the bottom of the matter,” she said.
Minister of State for Bulawayo Provincial Affairs and Devolution Cde Judith Ncube said retailers in the city were concerned that the intended beneficiaries were not seemingly the people who benefited.
“We have a big challenge with us, we need proper insight into this matter and it must be investigated. I was called by a manager at one retail shop in Bulawayo to observe what was going on, there were very long queues in their shop at two payment points that were supposed to be assisting the elderly people who receive this fund. But the manager said they were shocked to see very youthful people who come monthly to use the funds and not elderly people,” said Cde Ncube.
She said while the elderly could send other people to buy their groceries, there was a strong suspicion that many undeserving people were benefiting. — @NyembeziMu