NOW DAILY EDITORIAL
The only reason why there is so much unbridled corruption in Zimbabwe is Robert Mugabe and Zanu PF.
Thanks to inaction by Mugabe and his coterie over the scandals that have been exposed over the years, Zimbabwe is now one of the most corrupt societies in the world, ranked 163rd out of 176 countries on the latest Transparency International Corruption Perceptions Index. According to the same organization Zimbabwean officials earned an astounding $2 billion through corruption in 2012, rivalling colleagues in South Africa and Nigeria which have much bigger economies.
Corruption impoverishes. It pushes up the cost of doing business and drives away foreign investors. It creates an elite class that cascades through the chaos without a care about what the consequences are likely to be.
Zimbabwe has had more than its fair share of scandals involving parastatals and public offices. The GMB, Zinwa, Noczim, Air Zimbabwe, Ziscosteel, Arda and NRZ have all been fleeced to bankruptcy by public officials. All Mugabe has done is to institute endless commissions of inquiry, whose results have never been published or acted upon. The corrupt officials running those organisations have, at worst been transferred and there has been no serious effort to prosecute them or recover what they have prejudiced the State.
The hullabaloo created around the issue of outrageous salaries in bankrupt state enterprises has successfully created the impression that Mugabe was ignorant of what was going on and overshadowed his own role in it. Yet it must be recalled that it is Mugabe who personally appoints the permanent secretaries who run parastatals under their ministries and report directly to him, often undermining their ministers and subverting programmes agreed in cabinet.
Instead of sacking the permanent secretaries for participating in this horrific looting of public funds, the President has decided to shield them by firing the boards. This wholesale sacking of boards across all ministries sets a very dangerous precedent. Far from reassuring the public and investors that the problem is being addressed, it has confirmed what we all knew: that boards appointed willy-nilly by Zanu PF ministers have no power whatsoever and that permanent secretaries are effectively in charge.
The stunning collapse of nearly all important parastatal boards amid scandals begs the question, “Where was Mugabe when this gangrene was setting in?”
Mugabe runs a sophisticated patronage system, perfected over decades. Relatives and cronies, many with no qualifications (as with Happison Muchechetere, the suspended ZBC CEO), are posted strategically to lucrative parastatals to act as gatekeepers and ensure that his family and party get the best free gifts out of state enterprises. Many of these officials are very corrupt but depend on him for protection when the going gets tough.
Take the case of the Harare City Council Town Clerk, Tendai Mahachi. The Council recently suspended him to facilitate investigations that he awarded himself and other city managers hefty salaries amid general mismanagement which has crippled the city and inspired residents’ protests. Days later, Mugabe henchman and local government minister Ignatious Chombo overturned the suspension and is now victimizing the Harare Mayor, Bernard Manyenyeni.
Over three decades of unbridled power, Mugabe and Zanu PF have perfected this sophisticated protection syndicate to the extent that virtually all those connected to them are untouchable.
Progressively, as the system weakened under the mounting scandals, cronies with fewer and fewer qualifications have been appointed to high posts to silence them, such as Joice Mujuru, the barely literate ex-guerilla fighter who Mugabe made Vice-President after her former army commander husband became vocal about the dictator’s stranglehold on power and threatened to overthrow him.
Numerous reports have surfaced about Mugabe’s stolen billions stashed away in Asian banks. Properties in Hong Kong, Singapore and South Africa are also unaccounted for. So, while this temporary diversion might hoodwink a few Zimbabweans, the rest of the people know that the father of corruption in Zimbabwe is Mugabe. Until he goes, corruption will not end in the country that he has ruthlessly impoverished.
Every few weeks, the ageing despot travels to the Far East, ostensibly to consult medical specialists but in effect to conduct his banking affairs and allow his shopaholic wife Grace to buy new shoes and hats.
At home, Mugabe has plundered state assets such as Air Zimbabwe, which he uses as his personal airline, regularly diverting scheduled flights to accommodate his Vasco Da Gama-esque penchant for foreign luxury travel. Agricultural and Rural Development Authority is now the personal property of Mugabe, with its employees working as managers and experts at the numerous properties that the dictator looted from white farmers, who were driven away with violence.
National Railways of Zimbabwe and Zupco were bankrupted after continuously being forced to transport passengers free of charge to attend Mugabe’s endless rallies. ZBC was equally brought to its knees by being forced to broadcast live Mugabe’s regular rumbling speeches denouncing the West and any domestic enemies that he may target.
The GMB and Reserve Bank of Zimbabwe were driven over the edge by being required to supply agricultural inputs supposedly to peasants resettled on farms seized violently from their white owners. The inputs were grabbed by military and party chiefs who resold them on the black market, subverting both the State and the agricultural miracle which Mugabe promised was about to happen.
Corruption is an evil, a cancer, a festering wound. That much we have heard from Zanu PF politicians in the last few days as they try to extricate themselves from the damaging revelations that their party colleagues posted to parastatals and munipalities by Mugabe have been plundering the economy through high and unsanctioned salaries and perks.
What we have not heard so often are ruling party politicians telling the nation that corruption is a crime in Zimbabwe for which there are penalties on our statute books and over which the police should act without any additional or special powers.
We do not have to moralize about it, or to invoke Jesus Christ, Kwame Nkrumah or Nelson Mandela to explain why corruption is wrong. The only reason why our public officials should not be engaging in corruption is that it is illegal. That simple knowledge should save us the time of engaging in useless debates about whether or not the police are well paid and if that entitles them to take bribes at roadblocks. It also saves us the complication of having to deal with all the others who will come up with all sorts of reasons to justify corruption.
Zimbabwe, as a signatory of the United Nations Convention Against Corruption (UNCAC), which it ratified in 2004, is obliged to act against graft. UNCAC’s eight chapters and 71 articles oblige state parties to implement a wide and detailed range of anti-corruption measures affecting their laws, institutions and practices.
Zimbabwe ratified UNCAC in name only. A so-called Anti-Corruption Commission (ZACC) handpicked by Mugabe has itself proved to be notoriously corrupt, with millions of dollars being stolen from its coffers by its officials. In 2011, Global Integrity expressed shock at the failure by ZACC to conduct its duties. In one year cited, ZACC only attended to four out of 148 corruption cases presented to it.
Yet UNCAC could have gone a long way in preventing corruption, if the measures outlined in it were applied. These measures aim to promote prevention, criminalization and law enforcement, international co-operation, asset recovery, technical assistance and information exchange, and mechanisms for implementation.
Mugabe’s crew has neglected harmonizing the laws dealing with corruption, meaning that an act of corruption under one law is defined differently under another. For example if a policeman takes a bribe and sets a dangerous criminal free, he should face no less than four years for each count if charged with corruption. He would also lose his job and pension benefits.
However, to protect Mugabe’s cronies who dominate the top ranks of the police service, the above crimes have been redefined in the Police Act, which governs the police. Freeing a suspect without authority is considered “misconduct” and taking a bribe is called “dishonesty”, both of which carry, at most, a few months imprisonment. To further weaken corruption cases, corrupt officers are often put under a blanket charge called “putting the force into disrepute”, which in effect does not mean anything and is usually just used to facilitate transfers of corrupt cops.
Repeatedly, and over time, Zanu PF officials have escaped sanction in Zimbabwe after corruptly acquiring wealth and looting public enterprises. Mugabe has justified these episodes of looting and plundering of the national economy by coming up with all sorts of ideological reasons.
In the 1970s, his Zanla guerilla army went on a rampage, killing farmers and villagers and grabbing whatever valuables they could find. Mugabe justified this, claiming the war was necessary to bring independence. Some historians dispute this and maintain the war actually delayed independence and merely enriched Mugabe and his bands of hooligans, the same thugs engaged in the worst forms of corruption today.
In the 1980s, Zanu PF went on a campaign to destroy white businesses under the guise of socialism. Later, in the 1990s and 2000s, it became a free for all. Billions of dollars were stolen from the state treasury by Mugabe and his cronies in the name of compensating war veterans, African solidarity (disastrous military forays into Mozambique and DRC), civil servants housing schemes and so on.
Then Mugabe and his band embarked on wholesale theft of white-owned farmland, equipment and infrastructure built over decades. The dictator said this was a land revolution to right colonial wrongs. The ‘land reform’ programme failed dismally in its mission to uplift black people from poverty after Mugabe’s rich hangers on and the military took all the best land and plundered farming inputs supplied by the state, crowding out the peasants.
Then came “indigenization”, which was touted as South African-style black empowerment when Mugabe approved it as an election gimmick when he faced defeat to Morgan Tsvangirai on the eve of the 2008 election. Indigenisation has been hijacked by the top brass and all benefits provided by foreign multinationals for the benefit of communities have been creamed off by the chefs. Well-connected government “consultants” have been paid millions from the meager community share funds donated by the foreign firms.
If anyone expects Mugabe to take genuine action to end corruption, they are daydreaming. The stunning assertion by Joice Mujuru, though denied, that corruption should not be discussed in public, that it is a foreign plot to bring down the government is as dangerous as it is naïve. History will tell that Mujuru’s plunder of the Marange diamond fields, looting of gold and raiding Zinwa had less to do with Western sanctions and pressure than with personal avarice.
The MDC should seize the moment to expose more graft in high office. They should take on Mugabe himself: how much is his estate worth, where did the money come from and where is it hidden? They should push more for an independent Anti-Corruption Commission and a review of the laws that govern how we deal with corruption as a nation.
NOW DAILY EDITORIAL