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WOMEN DEVELOPMENT FUND REPORT

 

 

 

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REPORT OF THE

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PORTFOLIO COMITTEE ON WOMEN AFFAIRS, GENDER AND COMMUNITY DEVELOPMENT

 

ON THE

 

WOMEN DEVELOPMENT FUND (WDF) PROJECTS.

 

 

 

FIFTH SESSION: EIGTH PARLIAMENT

 

PRESENTED TO PARLIAMENT

 

NOVEMBER 2017

 

 

 

 

 

 

           

            ORDERED IN TERMS OF STANDING ORDER No. 17:

i.                 At the commencement of every session, there shall be as many Committees to be designated according to government portfolios to as the Standing Rules and Orders Committee may deem fit.

ii.               It shall be the function of such Committees to examine expenditure administration and policy of government departments and other matters falling under their jurisdictions as Parliament may, by resolution determine

iii.             The members of such Committees shall be appointed by the Standing Rules and Orders Committee, from one or both Houses of Parliament, and such appointments shall take into account the expressed interests or expertise of the Members and Senators and the political and gender composition of Parliament.

iv.             Each select committee shall be known by the portfolio determined for it by the Standing Rules and Orders Committee.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

TERMS OF REFERENCE OF PORTFOLIO COMMITTEES S.O 160

Subject to these Standing Orders a Portfolio Committee shall:

i.              Consider and deal with all Bills and Statutory Instruments or other matters which are referred to it by or under a resolution of the House or by the Speaker;

 

ii.            Consider or deal with an appropriation or money bill or any aspect of an appropriation or money bill referred to it by these Standing Orders or by or under resolution of this House;  

iii.          Monitor, investigate, inquire into and make recommendations relating to any aspect of the legislative programme, budget, rationalization, policy formulation or any other matter it may consider relevant of the government department falling within the category of affairs assigned to it, and may for that purpose consult and liaise with such a department;

iv.          Consider or deal with all international treaties, conventions and agreements relevant to it, which are from time to time negotiated, entered into or agreed upon.   

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

1.0     INTRODUCTION

The Ministry of Women Affairs, Gender and Community Development, since 2010, has been disbursing loans earmarked for women projects in all provinces of the country.  In line with its oversight function, the Portfolio Committee on Women Affairs, Gender and Community Development, conducted provincial  field visits to verify the existence and viability of the projects funded by the Women Development Fund (WDF). The visits were conducted from 7 to 11 May 2017.This report provides the Committees' major observations, submissions, findings, conclusions and recommendations.

 

2.0     OBJECTIVES OF THE VISITS

During the inquiry, the Committee was guided by the following objectives:

·         To verify the existence of the projects funded by the WDF since 2010;

·         To assess the viability of the projects, their impact on beneficiaries' livelihoods, and challenges being experienced in running the projects; and

·         To find out the loan repayment status from the beneficiary groups, and challenges being experienced by both the Ministry and the women groups.

 

3.0     METHODOLOGY

The Committee held meetings with the Ministry of Women Affairs, Gender and Community Development and reference was made to the Women Development Fund. On 19 July 2016 the Ministry of Women Affairs, Gender and Community Development submitted its First and Second Quarter Budget Performance reports. On 22 February 2017, the ministry made another presentation to the Committee on other initiatives they had put in place for women empowerment over and above the WDF such as the establishment of Mambokadzi, a private company for women. To gather information on the state of the projects the Committee visited six provinces. The following provinces, districts and women projects were visited: Midlands, Gweru District (Tsungai Group – bee keeping; Splash Touch Group – horticulture; Zvinoita chete group – sewing; EC Headmaster Group – produces hats); Bulawayo Metropolitan Province (Mzilikazi District -  Passionate Alms of Children ECD); Matebeleland North Province, (Umguza District -Tshiya So Group – General Dealer); Matabeleland South Province (Umguza District – Nyamas Group – Poultry); Masvingo Province (Mwanyisa Dorothy-Peanut Butter Production); Manicaland Province (Chimanimani District – Safai Group – uniform and garment making; Mutare District -Great Ladies Group – Timber Production; Anenyasha Women's Diamond – Tying and Dying); Mashonaland East Province (Marondera District -Sunrise Group – Rabbit Production; Little Angels – ECD). 

 

4.0       BACKGROUND

Gender equality and the economic empowerment of women are crucial components of sustainable and socially equitable development. Development of a revolving fund for women has always been at the core of women economic empowerment programmes. Even the United Nations Development Fund for Women (UNIFEM) which was established in 1976 in conjunction with the United Nations Decade for Women (1976 – 85), was aimed at giving financial and technical assistance in critical areas including reducing women’s poverty. Affirmative actions, such as gender budgeting initiatives and women development fund, are critical in promoting women economic empowerment and financial inclusion. WDF, among other things, increases women’s access to economic resources, job opportunities, financial services, property and other productive assets.

 

The National Gender Policy (2013 – 2017) stipulates that Zimbabwe recognises that economic growth programmes that target women. As such, the economic empowerment of women has become a key priority for the Government of Zimbabwe to achieve sustainable economic growth. Further to that, the policy stresses that notable progress towards women’s economic empowerment include among others, establishment of a Women’s Fund, launched in 2010, and supported by Treasury . Although the Ministry of Women Affairs, Gender and Community Development’s budget allocation has been always less than 1% of the National Budget, the ministry has made attempts to empower women.  It has disbursed more than US$2 million of funds to women group projects in the ten provinces: US$ 245 000 was disbursed in 2013; US$350 000 in 2014; and US$300 000 was allocated but not disbursed in 2016. In 2017 the Treasury allocated US$ 600 000 to the revolving fund under WDF and has not been released.

Micro-finance, including micro-credits, which women development fund facility provides, is considered an instrument that promotes effective women empowerment. Experience, according to UNDP, however, has shown that giving women micro-finance credits is not a silver bullet. Whilst it can stabilise livelihoods, broaden choices, provide start-up funds for productive investment, help poor people send children to school, it can also lead to indebtedness and increased exclusion unless programmes are well-designed[1]. Providing supplementary services, such as training, working through groups rather than individuals, or alongside other investments, has been shown to increase women’s direct control over resource[2] To graduate women’s income-generating activities from survival level into strong and viable businesses, women need access to the full range of credit, banking and financial services and facilities, essential to fully develop their productive assets.

 

5.0                       FINDINGS OF THE COMMITTEE

5.1                       The State of Women Development Fund (WDF) (2010 to 2017).

Your Committee, was pleased to note that despite receiving less than 1% of national budget annually, the Ministry of Women Affairs, Gender and Community development has disbursed funds to various women group projects under the WDF facility as highlighted below.

PROVINCE

NUMBER OF PROJECTS

YEAR

AMOUNT

($)

Midlands

46

2010

52 600

 

54

2012

100 600

 

56

2013

  87 400

 

53

2014

   61 000

Masvingo

42

2010

    58 100

 

48

2012

110 700

 

51

2013

   62 000

 

38

2014

 39 447.09

 

8

2015

7 707.45

Mat North

45

2010

  56 890

 

31

2012

   87 787

 

29

2013

   51 500

 

45

2014

   81 117

 

Your Committee is however concerned that there were many women groups that applied and qualified to get funding but could not get the loan due to funds shortages. The Committee also observed cases of poor or inequitable distribution of the available funds. A case in point is in Masvingo province where one group, into mining project, got funding to the tune of US$12 000, the project was no longer viable and they were failing to repay loan. The amount, if fairly distributed could have benefited many deserving groups rather than one group.

 

In addition, the Committee was concerned that WDF provision and disbursement was rather little and erratic, respectively. The Committee was informed that for 2016 the fund was allocated (US$300 000) but not released by the Treasury. As of February 2017 the US$600 000 earmarked for the revolving fund had not been disbursed as well.  This left many women groups, especially those in rural areas, without access to credit facilities.

 

5.2                       Women Development Fund Awareness and Information Dissemination

Your Committee was concerned about the methodologies used by the Ministry of Women Affairs, Gender and Community Development to disseminate information about the WDF facility to women. The Committee was informed that the Ministry uses its Ward Development Coordinators, yet there is critical shortage of these officers on the ground. The Committee was further informed that the Ministry also make use of public meetings and gatherings, such as the 16 Days of Activism, to announce information about the WDF availability and disbursement. The Committee is of the opinion that the medium of communication used to communicate WDF facility to women cannot fully reach out to the majority of deserving women in both rural and urban areas. This was confirmed during fact finding public meetings in Bulawayo Metropolitan Province, Nkulumane Township and Manicaland Province in the city of Mutare. In both provinces, women expressed ignorance and lack of information about the WDF, in terms of where to get information and where to submit their applications for the loans. It is the view of the Committee that the state of WDF communication has been and will continue to benefit the few well connected groups of women while the majority marginalized women will continue to be excluded from benefiting from the fund. This is totally against the letter and spirit of the National Gender Policy (2013 – 2017) recognition of the need for broad inclusion women and participation of women in the economy - the Womenomics.

 

5.3     Women Development Fund Beneficiary Selection Criteria and Transparency

The Committee made the observation that the processing and selection of WDF beneficiaries lack basic principles of openness and transparency. The submissions made to the Committee by the Ministry officials was that the selection of WDF beneficiaries involve the following: (i) Ward Development Coordinators; (ii) the Ward Loans Committee (WLC); (iii) District Loans Committee; (iv) Loans Technical Committee ; (v)  representatives from different sections of the community. However, submissions made to the Committee in Bulawayo Metropolitan Province; Masvingo Province; Manicaland Province in Mutare; and Mashonaland East in Marondera indicate that all the processing is done at the Head Office without involving local ward coordinators of women representatives. In Masvingo, at Rodger Howman Training Center, the Committe was informed that the provincial office was directed to recommend specific group of women which was later to be awarded a loan of US$12 000. A loan which they are now failing to repay. In Mashonaland East Province, Marondera town, Government Complex, the Committee was informed that there were women groups which were approved and given WDF loans at the Head Office in Harare without making applications through ward coordinators. In Matebeleland South Province, Matobo Ditrict, the Committee was informed that even the ministry officials, were not immediately aware of who is selected by the Head Office, until Post Office communicates with the members of the selected group.  In fact, the Committee was informed that there were cases, in Matobo District, in which groups fail to collect loans given to them, as Post Office fails to contact them due to communication challenges in the district. At the same time, the Ministry officials could not assist since they also did not have information. The view of the Committee is that the selection process is too opaque, centralized and dominated by the Head Office, and also excludes both representatives of women at local levels as well as the ward coordinators.

 

5.4     Women Development Fund Projects Viability

The basis on which WDF beneficiaries selection criteria remains very unclear to the Committee considering the high number of projects that were found to be non-viable and non-functional for one reason or the other. A list of projects given to the Committee in  Mashonaland East Province; Bulawayo Metropolitan for Mbizo District, Reigate District, and Khami District; as well as for Mutare District in Manicaland Province, reflected that most projects were no longer functional. Most of these projects were also failing to pay back the loans. The reasons highlighted in the Ministry documents as the cause of the collapse of the groups include but not limited to the following: group members after getting the loan share the fund and separate; internal squabbles and disintegration of the group; the project proved non-viable due to lack of competence of members and market related challenges; passing on of members or getting out of the country. It is the view of the Committee that the Ministry does not carry out adequate project proposal vetting before beneficiary selection and WDF disbursement. As a result, a lot of beneficiaries whose project proposals do not qualify to be given loan end up getting the funds. In fact, it appeared apparent to the Committee that groups are just formed for the purpose of getting funds and nothing is pursued after getting cash. This unfortunate scenario seems to go unchecked due to gross inadequate or complete lack of projects monitoring and evaluation by the Ministry.

 

5.5     WDF Repayment Status

The Committee was further dismayed that the WDF repayment status in most provinces is critically low, except in Masvingo and Midlands Province. Documents submitted to the Committee as well as submissions made during the fact finding exercise reveal the following WDF repayment rate in the following provinces: Masvingo 80%; Midlands Province 60%;  Mashonaland East was 45%; Matebeleland North 29%; and Matebeland South Province 24%. The Committee was further concerned that the Ministry was not doing enough to recover the loan from the women groups, except receiving payment plan and rescheduling of the repayment plans as reported to the Committee in Chimanimani and Marondera districts. In Chimanimani, the Committee was informed by one group that it was no longer able to repay its loan, because it was also owed US$8 000-00 by Wattle Company, which had also folded up its operations. It is the concern of the Committee that the Ministry is not fully engaging the Wattle Company to assist the women project to recover this huge amount it is owed by the company.

 

5.6     Ministry Capacity to Monitor and Evaluate Women Projects

Your Committee observed that the Ministry of Women Affairs, Gender and Community Development is severely incapacitated to effectively monitor women projects at grass roots level by the shortage of ward development coordinators’. In Manicaland, Mutare, the Committee was informed that regulations were that Ward Coordinators should visit WDF projects monthly, and the District and Provincial Development Officers should visit the projects quarterly. However, the Committee was further informed that this was not feasible due to shortage of personnel. Mutare with 55 districts had only 34 ward development coordinators and reported that it had been advised to downsize to 29. The Committee was informed that Umguza District, with 19 wards had not even one ward development coordinator until April 2017 when it was given 5 officers transferred from Bulawayo Metropolitan Province. The Committee was further told that the number of Ward Development Coordinators are being reduced in most districts as part and parcel of the rationalization process currently going on in the Ministry of Women Affairs, Gender and Community Development.

 

5.7       Availability of Transport for Monitoring and Evaluation

All the provinces and districts visited by the Committee, it was reported that there were no vehicles or cycles for WDF projects. In Umguza District, Matebeleland South, the Committee was told that the district relies for its mobility on one vehicle from the Public Service Commission. In fact, in most if not all projects visited the Committee had to use its on vehicle to transport both Ministry officials and project members. Committee is of the view that with the shortage of Ward Development Coordinators being experienced, and the total lack of vehicles for the project, the Ministry does not have the capacity to fully monitor its projects. This means that the WDF is likely to continue to be abused until measures are put in place to rectify the anomaly.

 

5.8       WDF Interest Rates

The Committee observed that most projects were struggling with the interests that were charged on the loans that they borrowed.  The Committee was informed by Peoples Own Savings Bank (P.O.S.B) authorities, which administers the fund on behalf of the Ministry, that the interest rate charged on WDF loan is 10% per annum. However, the Committee noted with dismay that a considerable number of projects failing to repay loans, now owe the Ministry more than the funds that they were originally given. This is against the duplum rule which is a common law rule that provides that arrear interest ceases to accrue once the sum of the unpaid (accrued) interest equals the amount of capital outstanding at the time (and not the amount of capital originally advanced). "In duplum" directly translates to "double the amount". The Committee was again worried about the level of poor record keeping and communication pertaining loan repayments. This was reflected by the differences between records on outstanding balances as reported by Ministry officials, and the payment receipts held by project members. The Committee was further concerned about many cases of project accounts which continue to accrue interests when the repayment of the loan has been finalised.

 

6.0       CONCLUSION

In view of the evidence that your Committee gathered the following were the major conclusions made. First that the Ministry's information dissemination does not reach out the majority of women in both rural and urban centres. As a result, the WDF will continue to benefit the only few well connected groups of women, who are already empowered in their own right, while the majority marginalized women will remain excluded from the fund. Second, the processing and selection of WDF beneficiaries is too centralized and opaque as it seems to exclude key stakeholders listed in the procedure, which are: Ward Loans Committee (WLC) which should include special groups; District Loans Committee (DLC); and the Provincial Loans Committee (PLC). Third, considering that most WDF are reported non-functional, and that their repayment status is critically low in some provinces, compounded by shortages personnel and vehicles, the fund is most likely to fail to produce any meaningful impact on the livelihoods of women in communities. However, your Committee was pleased to note that despite receiving less than 1% of national budget, the Ministry, since 2010 has made effort to disburse loans worth more than US$ 2 million under the WDF. Be that as it may, the conclusion of the Committee was that the fund is still very little and thin on the ground, since a lot of women project did not get chance to get funding since 2010.

 

7.0       COMMITTEE OBSERVATIONS

1.      The Committee noted that there is critical shortage of Ward Development Coordinators.

2.      That the processing and selection of WDF beneficiaries lacked basic principles of openness and transparency.

3.      That the WDF beneficiary selection process is too opaque, centralized and dominated by the Head Office.

4.      That the Ministry does not carry out adequate project proposal vetting before beneficiary selection and WDF disbursement resulting in undeserving applicants qualifying.

5.      That the Ministry does not have capacity to fully monitor its projects.

6.      That there is poor record keeping and communication pertaining to loan repayments.

 

8.0       RECOMMENDATIONS

1)      That the Ministry of Women Affairs, Gender and Community Development should overhaul its WDF communication and information delivery strategy to ensure that all communities get full information about the loan availability and how and where to make their applications for loans. Ward Development Coordinators should be visible on the ground and effectively deliver information on WDF to all women in all communities in a non-partisan manner. Ward Development Coordinators should have adequate and accurate information about WDF application, processing, and selection of approved projects proposals, to avoid non-collection of loans by selected women groups due to lack of information by September 2017.

 

2)      That the Ministry of Women Affairs, Gender and Community Development with immediate effect should improve the openness and transparency in the selection of WDF beneficiaries through strictly adherence to its procedure of selection criteria which fully involves the participation of the following stakeholders: Ward Loans Committee (WLC) which should include special groups; District Loans Committee (DLC); and the Provincial Loans Committee (PLC).

 

3)      That the Ministry of Women Affairs, Gender and Community Development should with immediate effect stop disbursing funds under WDF and immediately carry out an audit and evaluation of all projects funded under WDF since 2010 to ascertain their viability status. WDF is a revolving fund, it is critical that the Ministry ensures that all the projects owing it should be made to make their payments urgently. This will enable other groups, which have been waiting for financial assistance, to benefit from the same fund.

 

4)      That the Ministry of Women Affairs, Gender and Community Development and P.O.S.B authorities should enforce the duplum rule while at the same time meet and review the interests that are charged WDF beneficiaries before disbursement of funds for 2017. Given that the aim of the WDF, which is a government facility, is to empower the economically marginalized women in communities, the interest rates should be revised downwards and should immediately seize on completion of loan repayment. This will give the Ministry guarantee that the WDF facility will not end up taking more from the marginalized women it is supposed to empower.

 

5)      That the Ministry of Women Affairs, Gender and Community Development should urgently boost its resources allocation towards the WDF, especially increased provisions of personnel (ward development coordinators) and vehicles, among other things. This will go a long way in ensuring that the projects are properly monitored and evaluated, make these projects succeed, ensure the loans are repaid, and so more and more women groups will benefit in the medium to long term.

 

6)      To graduate WDF projects from survival level into strong and viable businesses, the Ministry of Women Affairs, Gender and Community Development and P.O.S.B should jointly provide full range of financial services and facilities, including training and capacity building of project members, essential to fully develop their competences and project productive assets by December 2017.



 

 

 

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