Comment

Zisco saga: fresh stern test of govt’s vow to fight graft

THE corruption at Ziscosteel is huge, so huge that there are some in government who believe the rot should not be brought into the open because it will tarnish the image of the country and scare away inve

stors.

The quest to conceal the scam at the steelmaker does not however discount the fact that the company has been crippled by government officials dipping their fingers in the till. Any investor exploring business opportunities in the industry will have to grapple with shameless graft at the parastatal.

Indian firm Global Steel which tried to come into Zisco on a management contract did not have to wait for the publication of a report before taking flight two months ago.

In the past two weeks the bureaucratic mess around the corruption saga at Zisco has created international excitement. Investors are watching government’s latest episode in its drama of blundering. The climax of the plot could be exciting, perhaps heads rolling off the political guillotine, resignations and arrests. That is for the optimists.

But in Zimbabwe, nothing is predictable anymore. The state could be busy authoring a plot for an anti-climax if the nation tolerates the antics of Industry and International Trade minister Obert Mpofu.

He has already indicated that he was misquoted by the media claiming that his colleagues in parliament and government had looted Zisco.

The unfolding drama is a huge test of government’s commitment to fight corruption, which we feel has a major defect arising from the make-up of institutions tasked with probing and rooting out the cancer.

President Mugabe last year set up a Ministry of State Enterprises, Anti-Monopolies and Anti-Corruption. The broad scope of the ministry is manifest in its expansive title, but that is not the major handicap.

Parliament then enacted a law which gave birth to the Anti-Corruption Commission, a statutory body that does not however have total independence from the executive as Anti-Corruption minister Paul Mangwana has a keen interest in its activities.

The minister’s position in the anti-corruption drive raises serious ethical questions. He is also in charge of parastatals; institutions where corruption is fostered by Zanu PF’s persistent interference. Here is a minister who has every right to require from parastatal heads information regarding their operations. He has to execute a delicate balancing act.
 
He is holding a basket of corrupt parastatals on the one hand and brandishing a weapon to deal with corruption on the other.

The question that arises here is whether Mangwana can extract incriminating information on corrupt parastatals and then pass it on to the Anti-Corruption Commission to investigate. But he cannot pass on such information without being accused of violating confidentiality clauses. If he then elects to look the other way, there is every reason to accuse him of aiding and abetting corruption.

His role as minister also responsible for the anti-monopolies portfolio raises more questions of conflict of interest. Most parastatals are in themselves hopeless monopolies that have failed to serve the nation. State enterprises such as Zesa Holdings, Tel*One and the Grain Marketing Board come to mind here. Does he support the existence of monopolistic parastatals when he is advocating — through the Anti-Monopolies Commission — fair trade practices in the private sector?

The minister’s invidious position is a product of the Zanu PF government’s interest to create control processes which normally function more efficiently when they are independent of government.

Mangwana’s portfolio was perhaps relevant at the time when President Mugabe first pronounced it but it has become a basket of contradictions. The executive’s hands are all over the anti-corruption drive because the minister constitutes the link between the commission and his political comrades.

The Zisco saga is therefore a stern test of the current arrangement where the Parastatals minister also has links to the commission which is supposed to investigate bleeding state enterprises. Under normal circumstances, Mangwana should know what is happening at Zisco and the work of the commission should be cut out for it. Or is it? We watch with interest how the situation is going to develop, especially the roles and input of the ministry and the commission.

Top