ANTI-CORRUPTION minister Paul Mangwana said yesterday cabinet ministers and MPs involved in the wholesale looting of state-owned assets at steel-making c
ompany, Ziscosteel, would soon be arrested.
Mangwana ratcheted up political pressure on officials named in a report compiled by the elite crime-investigating unit, the National Economic Conduct Inspectorate, by promising arrests at a time when government is struggling to counter public scepticism over its commitment to combat graft.
This came after Industry and International Trade minister Obert Mpofu told parliament on Wednesday that “influential people” had pillaged Ziscosteel through “underhand dealings that have left the company bleeding”.
“Very soon we will take action and police will make arrests of those who were involved in corruption at Ziscosteel irrespective of their political or social status,” Mangwana said. “It doesn’t matter if they are ministers or MPs. As long as they were involved they will be arrested. If we find that a crime was committed by whoever we will call in the police and provide evidence for prosecution.”
The scramble by government officials to pillage Ziscosteel assets was said to be outrageous. Reserve Bank governor Gideon Gono said in July the central bank had saved Ziscosteel from closure by providing an emergency $2 trillion (old currency) lifeline.
He said production at the company had plunged by 88% from 14 200 to 1 600 metric tonnes in February. The firm is saddled with foreign debts in excess of US$126 million. Ziscosteel is one in a chain of major parastatals which are technically insolvent.
The report on high-level corruption at Ziscosteel has been kept under wraps by government amid revelations there were fears in the corridors of power that it will claim high-profile political casualties. Sources said the Ziscosteel saga could ruin the political careers of the culprits and their handlers.
“The corruption exposed in the report is beyond ordinary criminality,” a source said. “It is tantamount to gangland looting.”
Mpofu said the report nailed top officials, “including colleagues of mine in this parliament”. He however said the report — which one source said was “devastating” — would not be published because it could damage the country’s already battered image. Mpofu said he pleaded with Mangwana not to release the names of those involved.
“The report contains names of my colleagues in the ministry, MPs and employees at Zisco. But for strategic reasons I asked Minister Mangwana to hold on to the report until we find a foreign investor,” he said.
Indian company Global Steel Holdings recently withdrew from a US$400 million contract at Ziscosteel after it was angered by operational chaos at the local firm and shortages of critical inputs such as coking coal, spare parts, fuel, as well as plant and equipment.
Asked in parliament if he was not undermining official policy to weed out corruption by suppressing the report, Mpofu said he was not protecting anyone but did not want to scare away investors.
“I would not support a situation where a lot of noise is made about corruption at Zisco when we are trying to attract foreign investors,” he said.
But some observers say the publication of the report could actually help to portray government in good light as it would show a new attitude of zero-tolerance for corruption.
In the past corrupt ministers and other officials have been allowed to get away scot-free as government either ignored such issues or sought to sweep them under the carpet.
Mangwana, who is also acting Information minister, said government would assess the report to see if those named were partners in crime through systematic corruption or via such things as “maladministration, incompetence or inefficiency”.
He said the report would not be published because it was not for public consumption. “My reports are for internal use, not public consumption. They are not for the media. We are (crime) intelligence people and we investigate corruption at all levels and make recommendations,” he said.