Editor’s Memo

Bare it all

I RECEIVED this somewhat crazy joke last year from a former colleague who has since migrated to the cold climes of the north. It goes something like this: Three world leaders, an Afric

an, an American and a Japanese were in a bar quaffing away after a long anti-corruption conference where they had all supported the resolution that leaders must declare their assets.


After the booze had gotten the better of them an argument erupted over declaration of assets.


“There is no way you can declare all your assets,” said the American. “That is why African leaders are always hiding some of them in Swiss banks.”


“We Africans do not have anything to hide. We are setting up anti-corruption commissions in our countries to deal with graft at all levels,” shot back the African leader.


The Japanese guy then came in: “It’s you two guys who have problems. Leaders should just bare it all like we do.”


“Then do it,” chipped in a man seated at the next table who had listened to the animated discussion with interest.


The Japanese guy jumped onto the bar table and stripped to the skin. “You see, I have nothing to hide.”


The other two also shed their clothes and so the three stood on the bar table to show that they had nothing to hide. Fascinated patrons in the bar did not take time to form a panel to judge the assets on display. The African won by a mile followed by the American, with the Japanese coming a distant third.


Knock it off guys. That’s definitely not polite behaviour! Political leaders should always declare their assets to show that they have nothing to hide. That way, we, the public, can tell if they were born corrupt, or became corrupt only after they were elected. If this helps to prevent corruption, then I’m all for it. Two weeks ago new Mozambican Finance minister Manuel Chang put his comrades in cabinet in an invidious position when he declared to the media all his assets. I mean his wealth: real estate, bank balances, earnings and motor vehicles.


In Mozambique all ministers are obliged to declare their assets to the Constitutional Council on taking office to safeguard against self-enrichment through corrupt means. However, there are not many Changs in Mozambique. In fact, there is no law that forces the ministers to declare their assets. Put simply, it is an obligation that is not compulsory but voluntary. Do you read any sense into this?


Rwandan President Paul Kagame in 2002 asked members of the newly-installed parliament to endorse the establishment of an ombudsman’s office so that government officials could declare their assets before taking office.


“We need to have a continuous assessment of how our leaders accumulate their wealth,” he said during the swearing in of his new cabinet, adding that this was “compulsory” for all government officials.


“I call upon this parliament to urgently pass the law setting up the ombudsman’s office to enable us keep track of the wealth that our officials accumulate over time,” he said.


Kagame himself declared his assets last year but under Rwandan law, details cannot be made public unless the ombudsman finds discrepancies between what is officially declared and what Kagame possesses.


The Mozambican and Rwandese cases sum up Africa’s commitment to fighting the scourge. There is always a proviso to either ensure there is no full disclosure or there is no disclosure in the first place.


If Kagame really wanted to lead from the front in the anti-corruption crusade, he should have bared all and be judged.


But at least there is something on course in these countries whilst our own leaders here have continued to put on layers and layers of apparel to cover their shameful bodies.


Politicians in third world countries have been slow to pick up the practice of openness and have been unwilling to implement it at all, which is why massive corruption thrives without shame in Zimbabwe.


Can anyone among our own leaders stand up and do a Manuel Chang? No, that is too rich to even contemplate. Could you imagine if our Finance minister had declared his assets when he took office? That would be too ghastly to contemplate for his comrades in cabinet who live like kings on a headmaster’s salary. Does anyone still remember the Leadership Code of the 1980s?


The shunting aside of that document was the death of any attempt to fight corruption in both the private sector and the government. It sort of sent the signal: It’s now legal guys, let’s do it.


New Attorney-General Sobusa Gula-Ndebele last week told journalists at a training workshop in Harare that public figures should declare their assets. That is a bold statement from the government’s top lawyer.


But perhaps he should take the first step and tell us what’s in his kitty. He should be followed by Anti-Corruption minister Didymus Mutasa who last year was asking people to confess their corruption.


If he is to play god then he has to prove that he is spotless.If this is gonna work at all, let’s bare it all guys.