When a disability rights group was launched in Zambia, it offered members hope of a better future. But two years on, the International Federation for Persons with Albinism and Blindness (IFPAB), in Eastern Province is being accused of swindling its members.
It all started in 2020, when IFPAB, which promotes itself as hope for the disabled, invited persons with disabilities and other poor Zambians to apply for loans, which to this day, none of the applicants have received.
MakanDay has been investigating similar groups, run mostly by Pentecostal pastors, that come in the name of God to steal from citizens.
Some of the groups had links to the former governing Patriotic Front (PF) party and were endorsed by government.
For example, on 12 August 2020, then Eastern Province Permanent Secretary Veronica Mwiche wrote a letter using the office of the president letterhead, to all district commissioners to cooperate with the organisation.
IFPAB asked applicants to pay K50 registration fee as requirement to access loans even of up to a K100,000 with that fee. Others paid an extra K50 consultancy fee for project proposal writing to the same organization.
According to founding president Peter Ngoma, a Church pastor, although there are about 10,000 members in Eastern Province, 40,000 were targeted for recruitment.
But some members told MakanDay Centre for Investigative Journalism that the organisation which came in the name of God was actually a scam.
“I call this a pure scam,” cried one of the members. “I have heard some people asking why we should raise issues on a project we only paid K100. This is about dishonesty and not what people were asked to pay.”
Some members questioned why an organisation that has failed to pay loans could invest in lodging business.
MakanDay has established that the lodge being questioned was actually run by Manix Ngwira, the provincial coordinator, and also one of the shareholders in the company.
The writer visited the place in Chipata town centre and found a notice displayed at the entrance that the lodge has since been closed.
In February this year, some aggrieved members reported the organisation to the Anti-Corruption Commission (ACC).
The Commission confirmed a complaint from some members had been received. They accuse the group’s leaders of swindling them of their money.
“The organisation promised that they will address the problem with the applicants,” said Queen Chibwe, the ACC public relations manager.
It is not the first time the group has been reported to law enforcement agencies.
MakanDay has seen a letter by Mr Ngoma written on 16 September last year addressed to the police in Chipata after he was reported there.
In it, he explained that his organisation was still committed to the empowerment programme and that it had engaged the applicants who had agreed to withdraw the complaint.
But one of the members, who was involved in registering applicants in Chipangali district, said there has never been such engagements.
Many accuse Mr Ngwira, the provincial coordinator of conspiring with others in Lusaka to defraud the members.
Mr Ngwira told MakanDay that it is difficult to defend the organisation because it is secretive.
“It is difficult for me to defend the organisation from those calling the whole project a scam,” he said. “We were promising people that they would access their loans within two weeks from the date of application, but none of the applicants has received the loans and its now almost two years.”
He said he had since left the organisation.
But according the Patents and Companies Registration (PACRA) records, Mr Ngwira is in fact one of the directors and shareholders in the organisation.
Other directors are Lazarous Shumba and Mr Ngoma. Loveness Banda is listed as company secretary.
The company is registered as IFPAB Investments Limited and its business address is next to Yamba Thula (Yabanthula) Lodge in Chipata, Eastern Province. It is in fact, not an international organisation as it is being portrayed by its founders.
Its nature of business has nothing to do with charity, but it is into a number sectors, including mixed farming, processing and preserving of fish, book and newspaper publishing as listed in the PACRA documents.
According to its Facebook page, IFPAB is an international organization that was established to advocate for the rights and well-being of people with albinism, blindness and other disabilities in Zambia.
The organisation is certainly secretive. MakanDay has accessed an oath of secrecy document that volunteers are forced to sign before joining.
One of the members who was in charge of recruitments, said applicants were required to sign the oath of secrecy document.
But Pastor Ngoma defended his organisation and that it is unfair for people to call the project a scam.
“This project is not a scam,” he said. “We’re a well-established organisation and the project is now at a stage where we are assessing the applicants.”
He accused some applicants of deceit.
He said: "We realised that a lot of the applicants were dishonest. Some people were indicating that they already have established businesses and applying for as K100,000 when it is not true.”
In addition, he said the money paid for registration was used to print cards for documents for members to send to funders oversees.
He claimed that an assessment for Lusaka and Copperbelt Provinces have been completed and members will start accessing their loans by June this year.