CORRUPTION, particularly in its political form which implies the use of power by government officials for illegitimate private gain, was an issue during Zanu PF’s annual conference in Gweru last weekend, suggesting the party is only keen to address the problem ahead of elections.
Report By Herbert Moyo
In its various manifestations, corruption takes the form of graft, embezzlement, bribery, extortion, nepotism and patronage, among others things. Corruption poses a serious development challenge.
In the political realm, it undermines democracy and good governance, while subverting formal processes and sabotaging economic progress.
President Robert Mugabe last weekend raised the issue at the conference, saying former South African president Thabo Mbeki recently told him Zimbabwe’s development and progress were being hindered by officials from within his party demanding bribes from investors, including from the African National Congress (ANC).
“I was getting complaints from outside. Former South African president Thabo Mbeki was saying some of their people in the ANC wanted to come intending to do business and this is what they have been told: ‘If you want to do this business, you bring US$5 million and from that US$5 million we take US$1 million that we will take to the minister to give to the president’,” Mugabe said.
“If I get information stating that so and so minister is doing this, he goes. Unfortunately, sometimes complainants do not want to identify the ministers, fearing persecution but that is happening in the ministries.”
However, Prime Minister Morgan Tsvangirai is on record saying he had brought to Mugabe’s attention allegations of corruption surrounding Local Government minister Ignatius Chombo but nothing was done about it.
Zanu PF chairman Simon Khaya Moyo also slammed corruption, saying it was now rampant in his party, casting doubt on the party’s seriousness in rooting out graft within its ranks.
Institute for a Democratic Alternative for Zimbabwe public policy and governance manager Jabusile Shumba described Mugabe’s remarks as an “election gimmick” by a leader who has ironically been using patronage politics to remain in power.
“Corruption is firmly entrenched in the Zanu PF edifice and engulfs its ministers and senior party officials in such a way that Mugabe cannot uproot it without bringing the whole party down,” Shumba said.
University of Zimbabwe political analyst Eldred Masunungure said Mugabe was only grandstanding at a major party conference coming before elections as he would not do anything about the issue which he has failed to confront throughout his 32-year rule.
Another political scientist John Makumbe said if Mugabe was serious he would have appointed a committee to investigate various reports of corruption during the Gweru conference.
“Instead the Anti-Corruption Commission is poorly-resourced and incapable of fighting corruption as is the Human Rights Commission and all other commissions set up by the coalition government,” said Makumbe.
Over the years Mugabe has failed to effectively tackle corruption even after in the formation of Anti-Corruption Commissions.
His government initially took a strong position against corruption after the unearthing of the Willowvale car scandal in 1988 in which several ministers acquired motor vehicles at knockdown prices from the Willowvale car assembly plant in Harare and then resold them for huge profits.
Some of the culprits were either fired or forced to resign with Enos Nkala, Callistus Ndlovu, Frederick Shava and Maurice Nyagumbo being the prominent victims. Nyagumbo reportedly committed suicide soon afterwards, showing the gravity of the issue then.
But at the same time Mugabe did not show a firm hand on the issue as he rehabilitated some of these officials, making Shava the ambassador to China and retaining Ndlovu as a party member.
Shava escaped jail time after Mugabe pardoned him despite being found guilty of perjury for lying under oath to the Wilson Sandura-led commission of inquiry.
Since then a culture of condoning corruption has taken root with corrupt government officials managing to retain their positions, while enjoying the proceeds of their ill-gotten wealth.
Corrupt ministers have largely become untouchable, with the notable exceptions being former Agriculture minister Kumbirai Kangai and former Finance minister Chris Kuruneri. Kangai was hauled before the courts on allegations of defrauding Grain Marketing Board in 2000, while Kuruneri faced jailed over charges externalising foreign currency in 2004.
Since then only ministers from the MDC formations have been arrested on corruption allegations leading to complaints by Tsvangirai and his officials that there was a plot by Zanu PF to target their colleagues.
In March last year, Energy minister Elton Mangoma was arrested on two separate occasions on charges he had authorised the purchase of five million litres of fuel from NOOA Petroleum of South Africa without going to tender. He was absolved of “criminal abuse of office” by High Court Judge, Justice Chinembiri Bhunu.
Tsvangirai was himself investigated for allegedly misappropriating US$ 1,5 million given to him by the Reserve Bank of Zimbabwe (RBZ) in 2009 to buy an official residence although Mugabe later said police must be careful not to arrest him without a basis.
Apart from the “Willowgate” scandal, Zimbabwe’s history is littered with corruption while Mugabe, despite his unfettered powers to hire and fire, has largely failed to rein in corrupt officials.
Politicians looted a VIP housing scheme in 1995, with relatives and friends of ministers and top military officers and civil servants issued with luxury homes at low prices. Civil servants who contributed the money remain homeless to this day and nobody has ever been held to account.
Politicians, senior government officials and security chiefs who controversially claimed massive disability payouts from the War Victims’ Compensation Fund, set up in 1997 to help those who had participated in Zimbabwe’s liberation struggle, are still holding top government and military offices.
Added to this, ministers exposed by land audits as multiple farm owners after the controversial land reform in 2000 got away with the theft scot-free.
Recently, a number of Zanu PF and government officials have been implicated in the smuggling of precious minerals since the discovery of diamonds in Chiadzwa, Manicaland province, but nothing has been done to hold them to account.
Reserve Bank governor Gideon Gono slammed top government officials over the smuggling of gold at the Zanu PF extraordinary congress in 2007.
Mugabe later in an interview to mark his 83rd birthday lashed out at the ministers whom he said were greedy and involved in smuggling of minerals, including diamonds, but also nothing was done.
Mbeki’s attempts to nudge Mugabe into action are bound to fail as Zanu PF officials, now synonymous with venality, only talk about it in vain, especially ahead of elections.