The Transparency International Corruption Perceptions Index (CPI) for 2015 ranked Zimbabwe the 17th most corrupt country in the world, coming eighth in Africa. Previous rankings have not been flattering either. The rankings emanate, in the main, from the court of public opinion because it is based on perceptions. And those perceptions are not without basis.
corruptionwatch WITH TAWANDA MAJONI
They are grounded, mostly, in what people hear and see. They are partly informed by the action that is taken or omitted by those that we have been entrusted to act. In Zimbabwe, failure by relevant authorities to take decisive action against those perceived to have committed corruption is clearly one of the major reasons why people have a dim view of transparency, accountability and integrity issues in the public sector in particular.
It goes without saying, anyway, that the manner in which authorities respond to reports and incidences of graft and bad governance shapes the spread and intensity of corruption in any socio-economic context. The less the commitment and will, the higher the levels of corruption, and the worse the public perception.
This is critical in understanding corruption in Zimbabwe, and elsewhere in Africa and the rest of the world. It is, therefore, worthwhile revisiting some of the sky high corruption cases in 2016 to remind the world why we are in such a mess.
As I do that, it is handy to note at the onset that, while the Zimbabwean law presumes innocence till a person is proven guilty, the court of public opinion is weirdly different. It has always ruled that one is guilty till proven innocent.
Ken Yamamoto, a researcher, summed it up in May this year when he noted: “If anybody hopes that there will be a major crackdown on corruption in Zimbabwe, they had better scale their hopes down, because it is just not going to happen.” And it hasn’t been happening for sure.
He is not short of followers. I am not under any illusion that Douglas Nyikayaramba, an army general, is the cleanest of them all, but he well echoed Yamamoto in late October. He said: “Ordinary citizens expect authorities to address these issues [of corruption], but then if they see nothing happening to the alleged criminals, they will end up being ungovernable and creating problems”.
He was implicitly referring to one of the biggest cases of corruption to emerge in 2016, the Zimbabwe Manpower Development Fund (Zimdef) issue in which higher and tertiary education minister, Jonathan Moyo, was being probed together with his deputy, Godfrey Gandawa, and other senior officials for allegedly siphoning more than $400 000.
When reports of the Zimbabwe Anti-Corruption (Zacc) probe broke, Moyo did not deny the allegations. Instead, he boasted that he was a modern day version of Robin Hood for taking money from Zimdef to help poor people, among them those who organised President Robert Mugabe’s birthday and villagers in his Tsholotsho North constituency.
Gandawa and lesser officials were arrested and taken to court and their cases are pending, while Moyo rushed to the Constitutional Court to challenge the manner in which Zacc “arrested” him. The court ruled in favour of a stay on his prosecution and that’s how it has been since early November. We wait to see what will happen next, but the excitement that came with the news of the probe has shriveled and, as Yamamoto remarked, there might be need for people to scale down their hopes.
I reckon it was in bad taste that, on the day Moyo was supposed to appear at the magistrates’ court in connection with the Zacc probe, he was away at the National University of Science and Technology (Nust) where President Robert Mugabe was presiding over a graduation ceremony. In fact, a warrant of arrest was issued against the minister as he rubbed shoulders with the president.
That looked as if the president didn’t care a mite about court procedures and justice delivery. The obvious thing he was supposed to do was to discourage Moyo from absenting himself from court. In Zimbabwe, it is abundantly apparent that court officials take a cue from Mugabe, for fear of victimisation. The justice system was therefore compromised the moment the courts learnt that Moyo had the luxury to be with Mugabe instead of at the Rotten Row complex. That douses any hope that the Zimdef scandal will be followed through properly.
The Zimdef scandal overshadowed preceding cases of alleged corruption, apparently because it involved Moyo, a cabinet minister and Zanu PF heavyweight with an unusual capacity to arrest public attention. Before that, though, there were other high-profile cases involving millions of dollars.
In June, state media revealed that Zacc was probing a raft of ministry secretaries and parastatal heads who had flouted tender procedures. Named parastatals included the Zimbabwe Broadcasting Corporation (ZBC) and the Central Mechanical Equipment Department which were reported to have violated tender procedures during the purchase of vehicles.
The information secretary, George Charamba, under whose ministry ZBC falls, immediately lashed out at Zacc for behaving like a rattlesnake that made a lot of noise before striking, implying that the commission had prematurely leaked information to the media. The anti-graft body was accused of impugning government systems and circumventing ministries.
Somehow, authorities remembered that Servious Kufandada, a senior Zacc investigator, was a former political opposition functionary, as if that was a crime. It turned out the tenders were approved by the Office of the President and Cabinet, which now supervises public procurement. Of course, despite warning Charamba not to interfere with its probe, Zacc slumped its shoulders and abandoned its investigations.
Then there was the case of Francis Gudyanga, the mines ministry secretary who stands accused of chairing the boards of three parastatals in direct contravention of the national code on corporate governance. Worse, Gudyanga was also accused of ordering the payment of some $1,3 million to Pedstock Investments, a Harare-based agriculture entity, for purportedly doing some work for the police minerals and border control unit. It also turned out that Pedstock installed state-of-the-art irrigation equipment on Gudyanga’s farm around the same time. The secretary was also accused of having direct links with a Dubai-based firm that was the largest buyer of Zimbabwean diamonds.
Gudyanga has appeared before the mines parliamentary portfolio committee and has been busy trying to defend himself. That parliament summoned him is encouraging, but those people who sit as judges, prosecutors, lawyers and assessors and in the public gallery in the court of public opinion would have hoped that the secretary be subjected to prosecution to prove his innocence.
A whopping $20 million was reportedly looted from the Zimbabwe Revenue Authority (Zimra) by its suspended head, Gershem Pasi and others. Pasi allegedly used his position to give himself huge allowances and was implicated in a vehicle importation scandal together with other Zimra officials whereby they are said to have undervalued the cars. Also, they allegedly abused millions of dollars meant for the whistleblower fund.
Despite the seriousness of the allegations, Pasi remains a free man. As is the case where high profile people are implicated, the worst they can suffer is suspension, transfer or termination of their contracts. They hardly appear before the courts. In the Zimra case, there seems to be a strong prima facie criminal case against the officials considering that the allegations were contained in an audit report sanctioned by the board.
The Mugabe family was also roped into the multi-million Dema diesel power plant where a son-in-law, Derrick, who is a brother to Bona’s husband, Simba, was awarded a multi-million tender together with Sakunda Holdings, perceived to be close to the ruling Zanu PF, without going to tender. There was a big outcry, but that is only as far it went. The deal is on and we need to scale down our hopes that corrective action will be taken.
Yamamoto is not a loudmouth. If we think that we will wake up one day and see the mosquito treating malaria, we must think afresh. Big scandals seem set to continue and, in the absence of spirited citizen action, there is no hope that our authorities will take meaningful action.
Tawanda Majoni is the national coordinator at Information for Development Trust (IDT), a non-profit organisation promoting access to information on public and private sector transparency and accountability and can be contacted on email@example.com