CorruptionWatch WITH TAWANDA MAJONI
Poisonous snakes’ teeth regenerate. It, therefore, doesn’t work to remove the serpent’s fangs and think you won’t get snake bites anymore. The venom lies deep inside too.
The Mnangagwa administration must learn a thing or two in this branch of herpetology — the study of reptiles — the day it decides to get serious with the fight against corruption.
To paraphrase a recent quote, if the Zanu PF government decided to be serious with corruption, almost everyone in government and the ruling party would be in jail by now. That’s partially correct.
In Zanu PF — pretty as it is in the opposition, by the way — knowing how to be corrupt is a rite of passage. Just as adolescent boys’ circumcision was in the good old days. The new Zacc chairperson, Loice Matanda-Moyo, has a clue on this. Last week, she came out guns blazing against the bunch of Zanu PF youth league leaders that’s waving lists of targeted senior party members it says are corrupt. It’s time for bed when a black kettle starts singing about black pots.
But the person who gave that quote is also partially wrong. Because, you see, his statement presupposes that getting people arrested is a sufficient show for fighting corruption. Yes, it’s good to give corrupt people their time in the dock, and the locker too. It takes some of the evil we suffer daily away from society. And it sends out a useful signal that corruption is a bad thing to do. It gets you rapped hard on the knuckles, particularly so in winter, as Prisca Mupfumira, the cabinet minister who is having her phase in remand prison, would tell you.
Arresting people and, hopefully, sending them to jail is not the be-all and end-all of fighting corruption, though. It’s obvious that’s what the Mnangagwa establishment is praying we will believe. That’s why it’s been making such a big case around Mupfumira’s arrest. It uses the catch-and-release model to try to fool us and deflate attention from real crises. Several ex-ministers were arrested and taken to court after the removal of Robert Mugabe from sweet power almost two years ago.
They were called “criminals surrounding the (ex-) president”. Yet we no longer have any clue on what’s happening to them. But what we know is that their cases have stalled, save for Samuel Undenge’s, which ended in a conviction for his theft of a mere US$12 000
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It’s sad that we are still centuries behind where the courts and corruption are concerned. Take this example. Four centuries ago, there was an English character called Francis Bacon, who became well-known for taking bribes. Sir Bacon was a philosopher, a diplomat and a lawyer. He was the attorney general and Lord Chancellor of England when parliament impeached him in the 17th century for taking bribes on at least 28 counts.
Sir Bacon admitted to the charges and he was convicted. You know what happened next? He was released from jail after just a few days and the 40 000 pound fine removed. He had bribed a judge! Here, you get to hear of judges and magistrates being bribed too. But it’s also clear that the judiciary is politically manipulated. The famed philosopher might now be as dead as bacon and at no time did he ever imagine that Britain would colonise us. But there are unflattering anecdotes in the story of the courts and corruption in Zimbabwe even now. So you can’t pin your hopes on arrests and prosecution as a sufficient game in the anti-corruption fight. It’s like removing the snake’s fangs.
You have to look elsewhere for a living solution. The biggest crisis we are suffering right now is the administration’s incapacity to understand that in order to sustainably fight corruption, you musn’t use hotchpotch methods. You must have a good strategy. And a good strategy doesn’t entail the optics of the catch- and-release tactic. It requires that you consider the problem of corruption more holistically.
Strategies are complex things to talk about, so you don’t want to swamp the damp post-Mugabe administration with all the fine detail about it. Save to say the establishment must seriously look at the root causes of corruption, otherwise it would have to be spending whole national budgets building jails for the next half-century, assuming it will still be in power then.
The administration must know that corruption, as it manifests in Zimbabwe, as in most of the developing south, is a complicated problem whose roots are mainly political and economic. That means you must fix the politics and the economy and then add the jails as a bonus. The best place to start is the political systems. You don’t often hear people talk about why and how it’s possible for a cabinet minister to interfere with subsidiary departments and make mega- millions for years without central government picking that up outside a forensic audit.
The systems are in bad shape and it seems as though those that must strengthen them deliberately leave things like that. There is need to strengthen transparency and accountability mechanisms. It must be clear who is doing what and whose responsibility falls where. There has been talk of a public service corporate governance framework before. It was reported at one time that government had adopted one. But that can’t be the case, because public entities are hardly governed by any framework.
A minister can still order a parastatal to release money to her bank account or something like that. You remember the case of Jorum Gumbo when he was Transport minister before President Emmerson Mnangagwa brought him under his office? He routinely ordered the Zimbabwe National Roads Administration to give him money for transport for foreign and local destinations even though he was supposed to draw those expenses from his ministry’s vote. He walks scot-free today and works close to the president.
And even where there are systems in place, there is no political will to monitor, evaluate and supervise them. That’s why, everyday, we hear of companies being awarded contracts without going to tender. All the big guys are busy doing that. They know what the next guy is doing, so they will keep doing it and those that must take action can’t because they are also in and they know what they are doing is known by the others.
The post-colonial state in Zimbabwe inherited the cultures of nepotism and cronyism from the coloniser and perfected them. The twin evil is corruption in itself, but the combination begets further corruption that becomes difficult to remove. You see, if you give your sister’s son a job in government, several things will happen. The nephew will spend most of his time drinking tea and his bosses will be too afraid to bring him to order. But because those junior bosses know that their senior boss is a nepostic pig, they will also become ones whenever they have the chance. That’s happening everyday in Zimbabwe. But the bosses’ relatives who would have been undeserved jobs will talk to their friends who will bribe the bosses to also get jobs. At the same time, those that gave each other jobs will protect each other from punishment by nosy outsiders. The chain goes like that.
Cronyism and nepotism wear another bad cloak within the ruling elite. That is where election into office is concerned. Those that are let to contest for office, and those that get into office, are hardly deserving candidates. They are the relatives, friends and mistresses of the game makers. These, too, have their own relatives, friends, mistresses, husbands and boyfriends. The chain continues like that. Because they got into office through the backdoor, they are in perpetual backdoor mode. Worse still, they are already corrupt by the time they are corruptly allowed into office.
In the same context, the Mnangagwa administration must honestly, seriously and persistently deal with the problem of the coup. The November 2017 coup was a power takeover based on cronyism and nepotism. It was not about freeing the nation from Mugabe’s rotten rule. It was about factional cronies giving each other power. And, consequently, that military-civilian regime that then christened itself the new dispensation developed a sense of “it’s our thing”. So, naturally, that sense of entitlement is driving corruption as those that actively pushed Mugabe out want every piece and crumb on the table and are eating the waiters too.
That aside, there is an unquestionable correlation between democracy and openness on one, and levels of corruption on the other hand, Zimbabwe is not the most democratic country in the world. It won’t surprise you, therefore, that it’s a very corrupt society.
This is where the poison sits. You can arrest people as much as you want. But it won’t work if you don’t address the underlying issues.
Tawanda Majoni is the national coordinator at Information for Development Trust and can be contacted on firstname.lastname@example.org