THE corruption trial of South African mogul Schabir Shaik, whose fallout eventually led to the sacking of deputy president Jacob Zuma, carries important lessons for Zimbabwe.
This is particularly so at this time because of government’s hype about its anti-corruption
South African President Thabo Mbeki did not hesitate to fire Zuma even though he had not been charged and convicted of corruption. Mbeki was not deterred by Zuma’s political support in the ruling African National Congress.
Mbeki’s point was that by being implicated in corruption, Zuma had undermined his constitutional mandate and should go. In firing Zuma, Mbeki raised two important points about the need to respect the constitution and the judiciary, one of the key pillars of government.
This is the test the Zimbabwe government will face in its anti-corruption crusade. It will distinguish between paying lip service to fighting corruption and real commitment to tackling graft.
President Robert Mugabe recently announced that government would soon establish an anti-corruption commission to deal with the problem which he said was distorting the economy.
Minister of State for Anti-Corruption and Anti-Monopolies Paul Mangwana last week said his ministry had received $300 billion to fight corruption.
“We have asked for funds from treasury and this provision, which was made in the last budget, is in the Office of the President and Cabinet,” Mangwana said.
However, analysts are sceptical about the commission and whether the multi-billion-dollar grant will help curb corruption — now deeply ingrained in Zimbabwean society. They say if Mugabe wants to fight corruption he must be bold enough to do it the Mbeki way — put the constitution and government integrity ahead of politics.
The analysts say splashing billions of the taxpayer’s money and setting up a commission will do little to stop corruption unless there is sufficient political will.
They say rather than money, the war on corruption first and foremost needs political will, independent investigation and judicial structures and an adherence to the rule of law.
Human rights lawyer Arnold Tsunga said it would be difficult for government to fight graft when it was infested with so much patronage. He said it was impossible to fight corruption when there was so much centralisation of political power without checks and balances.
“Centralisation of power breeds patronage,” said Tsunga. “Patronage increases corruption. Unfortunately that is exactly the case with our government.”
Tsunga said because of power centralisation, Mugabe was no longer answerable to anyone but himself.
“Because Mugabe is all-powerful, if ministers want protection for their corrupt deeds they align themselves to him.
“It’s the politics of patronage. It’s because of systemic failure that we are neck-deep in corruption and cannot find a way out,” he said.
He said an anti-corruption campaign would be effective in a situation where an independent and strong judiciary exists, which Zimbabwe clearly lacks.
Zimbabwe’s 25-year history is full of rampant cases of corruption that have been brushed aside to protect senior government officials despite overwhelming evidence to nail them.
Only recently Education minister Aeneas Chigwedere’s son wrecked a government vehicle that cost treasury $119 million to repair. Chigwedere did not report the matter to police but filled in a government accident report form purporting to have been the driver of the vehicle. Despite Chigwedere’s own admission in a letter, no police investigation has been launched.
Mugabe has in the past been equally reluctant to punish corrupt ministers and government officials. The Zanu PF leadership code designed soon after Independence to deter over-accumulation of property by the party leadership never worked. It was conveniently jettisoned as ministers scrambled to amass wealth.
Mugabe himself confirmed that he was not interested in the code when he blew a chance to prove his commitment to stamping out graft in 1988 after the infamous Willowgate scandal was unearthed.
Cabinet ministers would buy vehicles from Willowvale Motor Industries at government-subsidised prices and then sell them at exorbitant prices on the open market.
Mugabe pardoned those implicated, including Fredrick Shava, a cabinet minister who had been convicted. Shava was convicted mid-morning and pardoned a few hours later. Other ministers implicated were later recycled in government. None of the people implicated in the scandal went to prison.
Edgar Tekere was later expelled from the party for speaking out against corruption.
Ten years later Mugabe also allowed senior government officials to go scot-free after looting the War Victims’ Compensation Fund in 1997. Reward Marufu, brother to first lady Grace Mugabe, and senior government officials helped themselves to funds meant to benefit genuine victims of the liberation struggle.
Marufu’s claim of $800 000, a huge amount at that time, was probably the highest payout. Instead of being arraigned for corruption, Marufu was rewarded with a diplomatic posting to Canada, from where government was later forced to recall him after he was implicated in a child abuse scandal.
A large number of ministers at that time benefited after making exaggerated claims but were not charged. Vice-president Joice Mujuru is the only top-ranking official who returned the money after being found to have made an inflated claim.
Government officials who lied that they were almost 100% incapacitated continued to work in government, the army and police.
In 1998 Mugabe’s cronies were at is again in the VIP Housing scandal, dipping their fingers into funds accrued from individual home-seekers’ contributions. Mugabe’s wife Grace was among those implicated. She used the funds to build the Gracelands mansion which she later sold at a profit.
Senior police and army officers were also named in the scandal, even though none of the beneficiaries were charged nor was anyone asked to reimburse what they had taken.
Five years into the land redistribution programme, Mugabe is still wringing his hands in sheer frustration over his henchmen who took more than a fair share of the land and still cling to it. Mugabe has in the past threatened to name and shame top officials who seized
farms in the chaotic land reform. The nation is still waiting for him to act.
These cases lend credence to those who doubt Mugabe’s commitment to root out graft. They say he has dismally failed in the past.
Economist and MDC finance spokeman Tapiwa Mashakada said government was merely posturing because it was not committed to fighting corruption — especially from within itself.
“So many commissions have been set up and nothing as been achieved. These commissions work effectively if they are truly independent, not appointees answerable to the president,” said Mashakada.
He said autonomous commissions should have the support of a strong and independent judiciary.