CIVIL servants and uniformed forces staff have started benefitting from low-interest loans from the Government Employees Mutual Savings Fund (GEMS Fund), a facility set up to enhance their welfare and conditions of service.
The Government approved the establishment of the Civil Service Mutual Savings Fund and injected $100 million as seed capital.
The fund is being augmented by a deduction of 2,5 percent from the total pay of every State employee. But employees can opt out of the scheme.
A major benefit is that the fund allows civil servants and members of the defence forces to access loans at interest rates of between two and seven percent, much lower than the 12 to 30 percent charged by commercial lenders.
In addition, members of the defence forces will have shops within their cantonments where they will access subsidised basic goods while civilian staff will be able to access similar goods through improved Silo shops.
The Minister of Public Service, Labour and Social Welfare, Professor Paul Mavima, yesterday said he was happy that civil servants were accessing the low interest loans.
“We are happy that civil servants are going to get low interest loans under GEMS because this shows commitment to innovativeness by the Government. It also shows the sincerity on the part of the Government because we are trying as much as possible to improve the conditions of service of the civil servants,” he said.
Prof Mavima said the GEMS programme was also very good in the sense that it undercuts the loan sharks that were preying on civil servants.
“So, with this fund, civil servants are getting loans at very concessionary rates and also the amount they will get should do a lot of things including housing development or starting up small income generating projects, which will improve their livelihoods.
“We are very happy about it and we are confident that it will be a game changer especially in making sure that civil servants keep a lot more of their money instead of having it taken by loan sharks,” he said.
Zimbabwe Teachers’ Association president, Mr Richard Gundani, said educators were among many civil servants who were applying for the fund.
“We will support the members who want the loan and also those who don’t want it. But a lot of our members have shown that they want it and we hope it will benefit them,” he said.
Secretary for the Judicial Service Commission (JSC) Mr Walter Chikwanha said the fund was benefitting employees under the commission across the country.
He said several employees from all JSC departments had already benefitted.
“Various members of staff from the different JSC departments across the country from Plumtree, Bulawayo to Harare for example have benefitted from the loan and more will benefit,” said Mr Chikwanha.
In Bulawayo and Gweru, scores of civil servants have been flocking to the National Building Society (NBS) branches to submit their applications for the loan funding.
Mrs Adeline Maphosa, a civil servant said she was hoping to start a poultry business to earn extra income to fend for her family.
“I was so excited and relieved last week when I learnt about this loan scheme. It has always been my wish to start keeping broiler chickens for sale. This business is now popular and I always envied my neighbour who generated a lot from it,” she said.
“As a widow, fending for three children all at tertiary level is challenging as there are a lot of requirements. With my monthly earnings it is difficult to meet all their needs.
“So, for me this loan scheme came as a life- saving mechanism as I will immediately start my business and cater for the needs of my children. God really answered my prayers,” she said.
Mr Thabani Mathe, a teacher, said he was looking forward to better days ahead.
“I’m a teacher and a breadwinner at home. I fend not only for my four sons and wife but for my extended family as well. The duties that I shoulder are not in sync with what I earn. Most of the time I have to sacrifice selling some of my sacred possessions in order to put a decent meal on the table for my children.
“When I heard about this low-interest loan scheme I didn’t know how to react. I thought the person who told me was bluffing but when I confirmed many ideas came to my head.
“From this loan I will buy stock for a tuck-shop at my rural home. I had long planned this and all I lacked was capital. I am grateful for this loan and that the Government prioritised our pleas, it shows that we are appreciated,” said Mr Mathe.
Miss Nonsikelelo Mbamba (25) another civil servant said it was about time she generated recognisable income in her youthful days.
“I’m still young and have a lot of needs. I need to start investing for the future now, I cannot miss such an opportunity for anything. I want to rent a small corner at any cheap shop locally where I will sell clothing,” she said.-