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Youth Development Fund needs an overhaul

Ndulamo Anthony Morima

EAGLE WATCH

At paragraph 139 of this year’s State of the Nation Address (SONA), His Excellency the President, Dr. Mokgweetsi Masisi, states that “… one of my top priorities is to address the problem of unemployment especially amongst the young people, who constitute the majority of our population…”

 

From the SONA, it is clear that Government believes that the Youth Development Fund (YDF) is the main vehicle it can use to address the problem of youth unemployment, and, therefore, reduce unemployment generally. But, the question is: can the YDF, in its current form, assist government to achieve this noble objective? In my view, it cannot. Significant reforms are required if the Fund is to assist Government to meet this noble goal.

It is for this reason that one gets comfort from H.E Masisi’s statement that a review of the YDF has been initiated “… to improve the success rate of youth projects and thus optimize job creation through the programme.” According to the SONA “… among the proposed changes will be a focus on funding of youth cooperatives and consortia in identified sectors with potential for success…” It states further that Government has also decided to capacitate the YDF beneficiaries through training in first- level project management as a pre-condition for being funded…” 

I agree that funding of youth Cooperatives and consortia in identified sectors with potential for success will add life to the YDF since it will, in the case of Cooperatives, address a section of our youth who can do better in Cooperatives than companies which are the current YDF’s focus. Cooperatives, which are currently mainly in the hands of the elderly, have contributed to the livelihood of many families. There is, therefore, no reason why youth cannot improve their livelihoods through Cooperatives.

However, for Cooperatives to be attractive to the youth there is need for law reform. For instance, there must be provision for Cooperatives whose legal status entails the characteristics of a quasi-company. Also, the law must provide for incentives that will make the formation of a Cooperative as attractive as the formation of a private company. Failing this, few youths will be induced to start Cooperatives, making it to remain the domain of the elderly as it is currently the case.

Legislation and the incentive regime must be such that the youth can start Cooperatives in sectors of the economy which the youth have preference for, e.g. Information Communication Technology (ICT). But, for the YDF to empower and develop the youth enough to contribute significantly to our country’s economic growth it needs a total overhaul. Much as they are appreciated, the introduction of Cooperatives, consortia and training of YDF’s beneficiaries cannot go a long way in making the YDF truly impactful in our development. A total overhaul is, therefore, required if the YDF is to contribute to the reduction of the scourge of youth unemployment.

Firstly, the Fund cannot be sustainable if it is reliant on Government funding alone. Its sustainability can be enhanced by, for instance, introducing a Youth Development Levy (YDL) as the main source of the Fund’s revenue, making it a revolving fund. A YDL of even as little as 1% levied monthly on all the employed can raise enough funds to finance enough youth projects with enough capital to enable them to compete as a business or Cooperative.

The levy system is already working for our country in the areas of motor vehicle accidents, tourism, alcohol consumption and the construction industry in the form of the fuel levy, tourism levy, alcohol levy and construction industry levy respectively. Certainly, if our people can bear the aforesaid levies, some of which are not of general importance, they can bear a YDL which, if properly managed, can contribute to the reduction of such socio-economic ills as crime which mostly involves the youth.  

Granted, many YDF-funded businesses collapse because of such maladies as poor business ethics and poor monitoring, but some collapse because of lack of capital, making them unable to compete with adult owned businesses. Secondly, Government can also attract private sector funding into the Fund by creating such incentives as tax rebates and tax holidays for the businesses that contribute to the Fund. 

In this case, the Fund also needs to indicate how risk exposure of the private funds is going to be managed, how the private funds will result in reasonable, if not competitive returns and whether or not real portfolio growth is possible. Thirdly, as part of the Fund, an entity devoted to mentorship and monitoring could be introduced. Such as entity would be manned by experts with private sector expertise devoted fully to mentoring the Fund’s beneficiaries and monitoring the undertaking.

Currently, the Fund has no mentorship component. Monitoring is in the hands of Youth Officers who are not only ill-resourced, but also lack the skills to conduct impactful monitoring. The few who have the skills do not have the time because they cover large arears. The Local Enterprise Authority (LEA), which sometimes helps, also lacks capacity since it also deals with adult owned businesses which often, because of their economic power, get preference over the poorly funded youth businesses. 
 

Fourth, the Fund could have a Youth Card system where, instead of the youth being given hard cash, part of the funds could be loaded in the Card for use, in a controlled manner, to pay for such services as training, mentorship, etc. This Card could also be a benefits card which the youth can use to access such services as internet and cell phone airtime. The Card could also enable them to get discounts form certain manufactures, retailers and suppliers when procuring items and material relevant to their business. 

Fifth, over and above the limited company and envisaged Cooperatives and consortia portfolios, the Fund could also have the franchise portfolio in terms of which instead of staring a new undertaking a youth can purchase a franchise from an existing business with goodwill and market share. Sixth, the Fund must have a debt collection agency. According to reports from the Ministry of Youth Empowerment, Sport and Culture Development, many youths fail to repay the loan component of the Fund.

This is not surprising. According to the Ministry, youth are expected to make the payments by hand at the District Youth Offices which are sometimes closed because the officers are expected to tour the district to monitor projects. Incredibly, there is no provision for payment by bank deposits, Direct Debits or Stop Orders, for instance. Arrear interest is not levied on defaulters. There are no debt collectors to follow up on defaulters.

The result is that millions of Pula are lost because some dishonest and fraudulent youth acquire the loan with the intention to use it not for the business, but for wayward purposes and thereafter abandon the project. Seventh, in order to ensure that the Fund benefits all sectors of the youth population it must have sub-funds for such target groups as young women, youth living with disabilities, youth in conflict with the law, rural youth, urban youth, etc.

To ensure that there is equitable or at least proportional funding among the aforesaid youth groups, reporting must be done not only in terms of districts, but it should also be disaggregated in terms of these target groups. Finally, for the fund to ne successful it must be managed not by a government department, but by a private company, or at least a parastatal. Government should focus on its main duty, i.e. the development of policies. 

If the Fund is run by Government, the projects will inevitably suffer from poor mentoring, monitoring and evaluation because most Youth Officers are not only ill-resourced but are also ill-trained. It is also unlikely for Youth Officers to be effective in debt collection because they are limited by such rules and regulations as regards who can receive money, where and at what time? 

The poor debt collection rate is also because Youth Officers do not want to burn their fingers because politicians, who have significant interest in the Fund, would not want their voters to be taken to court, for instance. If Government does not want to over haul the Fund as suggested herein the least it can do, in my view, is to remove it from the Ministry and assign it to the Citizen Entrepreneurial Development Agency (CEDA). CEDA would, of course, have to be capacitated accordingly.

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Export Processing Zones: How to Get SEZA to Sizzle

23rd September 2020
Export Processing Zone (EPZ) factory in Kenya

In 2005, the Business & Economic Advisory Council (BEAC) pitched the idea of the establishment of Special Economic Zones (SEZs) to the Mogae Administration.

It took five years before the SEZ policy was formulated, another five years before the relevant law was enacted, and a full three years before the Special Economic Zones Authority (SEZA) became operational.

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Egypt Bagged Again

23rd September 2020
Samson

… courtesy of infiltration stratagem by Jehovah-Enlil’s clan

With the passing of Joshua’s generation, General Atiku, the promised peace and prosperity of a land flowing with milk and honey disappeared, giving way to chaos and confusion.

Maybe Joshua himself was to blame for this shambolic state of affairs. He had failed to mentor a successor in the manner Moses had mentored him. He had left the nation without a central government or a human head of state but as a confederacy of twelve independent tribes without any unifying force except their Anunnaki gods.

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‘RO, ‘RO ‘RO YOUR ‘BOT

23rd September 2020

If I say the word ‘robot’ to you,  I can guess what would immediately spring to mind –  a cute little Android or animal-like creature with human or pet animal characteristics and a ‘heart’, that is to say to say a battery, of gold, the sort we’ve all seen in various movies and  tv shows.  Think R2D2 or 3CPO in Star Wars, Wall-E in the movie of the same name,  Sonny in I Robot, loveable rogue Bender in Futurama,  Johnny 5 in Short Circuit…

Of course there are the evil ones too, the sort that want to rise up and eliminate us  inferior humans – Roy Batty in Blade Runner, Schwarzenegger’s T-800 in The Terminator,  Box in Logan’s Run,  Police robots in Elysium and  Otomo in Robocop.

And that’s to name but a few.  As a general rule of thumb, the closer the robot is to human form, the more dangerous it is and of course the ultimate threat in any Sci-Fi movie is that the robots will turn the tables and become the masters, not the mechanical slaves.  And whilst we are in reality a long way from robotic domination, there are an increasing number of examples of  robotics in the workplace.

ROBOT BLOODHOUNDS Sometimes by the time that one of us smells something the damage has already begun – the smell of burning rubber or even worse, the smell of deadly gas. Thank goodness for a robot capable of quickly detecting and analyzing a smell from our very own footprint.

A*Library Bot The A*Star (Singapore) developed library bot which when books are equipped with RFID location chips, can scan shelves quickly seeking out-of-place titles.  It manoeuvres with ease around corners, enhances the sorting and searching of books, and can self-navigate the library facility during non-open hours.

DRUG-COMPOUNDING ROBOT Automated medicine distribution system, connected to the hospital prescription system. It’s goal? To manipulate a large variety of objects (i.e.: drug vials, syringes, and IV bags) normally used in the manual process of drugs compounding to facilitate stronger standardisation, create higher levels of patient safety, and lower the risk of hospital staff exposed to toxic substances.

AUTOMOTIVE INDUSTRY ROBOTS Applications include screw-driving, assembling, painting, trimming/cutting, pouring hazardous substances, labelling, welding, handling, quality control applications as well as tasks that require extreme precision,

AGRICULTURAL ROBOTS Ecrobotix, a Swiss technology firm has a solar-controlled ‘bot that not only can identify weeds but thereafter can treat them. Naio Technologies based in southwestern France has developed a robot with the ability to weed, hoe, and assist during harvesting. Energid Technologies has developed a citrus picking system that retrieves one piece of fruit every 2-3 seconds and Spain-based Agrobot has taken the treachery out of strawberry picking. Meanwhile, Blue River Technology has developed the LettuceBot2 that attaches itself to a tractor to thin out lettuce fields as well as prevent herbicide-resistant weeds. And that’s only scratching the finely-tilled soil.

INDUSTRIAL FLOOR SCRUBBERS The Global Automatic Floor Scrubber Machine boasts a 1.6HP motor that offers 113″ water lift, 180 RPM and a coverage rate of 17,000 sq. ft. per hour

These examples all come from the aptly-named site www.willrobotstakemyjob.com    because while these functions are labour-saving and ripe for automation, the increasing use of artificial intelligence in the workplace will undoubtedly lead to increasing reliance on machines and a resulting swathe of human redundancies in a broad spectrum of industries and services.

This process has been greatly boosted by the global pandemic due to a combination of a workforce on furlough, whether by decree or by choice, and the obvious advantages of using virus-free machines – I don’t think computer viruses count!  For example, it was suggested recently that their use might have a beneficial effect in care homes for the elderly, solving short staffing issues and cheering up the old folks with the novelty of having their tea, coffee and medicines delivered by glorified model cars.  It’s a theory, at any rate.

Already, customers at the South-Korean  fast-food chain No Brand Burger can avoid any interaction with a human server during the pandemic.  The chain is using robots to take orders, prepare food and bring meals out to diners.  Customers order and pay via touchscreen, then their request is sent to the kitchen where a cooking machine heats up the buns and patties. When it’s ready, a robot ‘waiter’ brings out their takeout bag.   

‘This is the first time I’ve actually seen such robots, so they are really amazing and fun,’ Shin Hyun Soo, an office worker at No Brand in Seoul for the first time, told the AP. 

Human workers add toppings to the burgers and wrap them up in takeout bags before passing them over to yellow-and-black serving robots, which have been compared to Minions. 

Also in Korea, the Italian restaurant chain Mad for Garlic is using serving robots even for sit-down customers. Using 3D space mapping and other technology, the electronic ‘waiter,’ known as Aglio Kim, navigates between tables with up to five orders.  Mad for Garlic manager Lee Young-ho said kids especially like the robots, which can carry up to 66lbs in their trays.

These catering robots look nothing like their human counterparts – in fact they are nothing more than glorified food trolleys so using our thumb rule from the movies, mankind is safe from imminent takeover but clearly  Korean hospitality sector workers’ jobs are not.

And right there is the dichotomy – replacement by stealth.  Remote-controlled robotic waiters and waitresses don’t need to be paid, they don’t go on strike and they don’t spread disease so it’s a sure bet their army is already on the march.

But there may be more redundancies on the way as well.  Have you noticed how AI designers have an inability to use words of more than one syllable?  So ‘robot’ has become ‘bot’ and ‘android’ simply ‘droid?  Well, guys, if you continue to build machines ultimately smarter than yourselves you ‘rons  may find yourself surplus to requirements too – that’s ‘moron’ to us polysyllabic humans”!

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