A MakanDay investigation has revealed that the Zambia Cooperative Federation (ZCF) was granted a K15 million loan in 2014, by the highly indebted Zambian government, three years after the Patriotic Front party came into power, to implement a project to benefit its members.

According to the agreement signed on 14th February 2014 seen by MakanDay, the Ministry of Finance committed to finance ZCF with a loan to among other things, build two milling plants in Namwala and Luwingu districts, purchase three 30-tonne trucks and ten Nissan Pickup vehicles for lease to all provincial centres.

But MakanDay has found that although ZCF received the money from government, not all the proposed projects have been implemented.

In February this year, MakanDay also reported that the ZCF has been secretly taken over by private interests, including wealthy members of the Zambian elite and non-Zambians.

MakanDay established that the Lusaka Regional Trade Centre has secretly been taken over by private interests, including wealthy members of the Zambian elite and non-Zambians.

The ZCF has over three million members, most of them poor workers. Those members are affiliated to ZCF through their primary cooperatives at district and provincial levels. Each provincial affiliate contributes K5,000 to the ZCF each year in subscription payments. 

According to a document seen by MaKanDay, the cost of establishing the two milling plants in Namwala and Luwingu districts in Southern and Northern Provinces respectively, was pegged at over K4.3 million.

It has also not been established whether the 10 Nissan Pickups were purchased for all ZCF provincial centres.

In Chipata, a MakanDay journalist has established that the ZCF regional office confirmed receiving a vehicle which is now parked due to a mechanical fault. It was initially kept in Lundazi before being moved to Chipata, said a source. However, he did not say whether it was part of the fleet of ten.

ZCF had also proposed to purchase agro-chemicals for all district cooperative unions and fumigation equipment for all affiliated cooperatives in the country.  

In Mwinilunga, ZCF had further planned to purchase juice and jam equipment for some of its members.

The ZCF was asked to provide details of cooperatives that had benefited from the milling plants in Namwala and Luwingu, the whereabouts of Nissan Pickups and the three 30-tonne trucks, but executive director James Chirwa, asked which milling plants were being referred to, because there are several of them in the country.

Although a WhatsApp message for the schedule of activities under this loan was shared, Mr Chirwa is yet to respond to the request by MakanDay.  

When contacted again by phone, he wondered why MakanDay was interested in the ZCF affairs, when the organisation is private.

It is not clear how a debt-ridden government which is negotiating with the IMF for emergency financial assistance and is in talks with creditors found it fitting to use taxpayers’ money on the ZCF, an organisation that has repeatedly proved unworthy to its members, said one of the members.

Alexander Chikwanda was the Minister of Finance at the time the loan was issued. He served as first Finance minister under the PF from 2011 to 2016.

From left to right: Godfrey Bwlaya Mwamba served as Defence Minister, Mr Chikwanda and Guy Scott was Vice President under the first PF cabinet

Another of the ZCF’s “wasteful projects” is the milling plants financed by the US$ 200million loan from China, which was unveiled in 2015 and hyped the ZCF as “a plan for rural industrialisation”.

Critics allege that the project was mainly forced on poor farmer cooperatives across the country, without soliciting their views on their real needs, prior to the project’s implementation.