Eric Bloch: Arrest Corruption Epidemic

MOST Zimbabweans are inherently honest. However, even the most honest become dishonest when their children are crying from hunger.


Distressingly, that is increasingly so in Zimbabwe today. With more than 80% of the population desperately struggling to survive on incomes far below the poverty datum line (PDL), and over two-thirds of those not even having income equating to the food datum line (FDL), (the minimum necessary for survival without sustaining malnutrition), it is not surprising that crime is becoming more and more pronounced.
The paucity of incomes of most Zimbabweans is of such overwhelming magnitude that ever greater numbers can perceive no opportunity of staying alive other than to resort to crime in general, and corruption in particular.
The intensity of the survival struggle has increased exponentially over the past decade. Zimbabweans, with very rare exception, are strong adherents to the extraordinary, admirable “extended family” culture. They are imbued with a sense of obligation to fend for any and all, even most remotely related, who are in need. In a study conducted in 1991, it was assessed that the average income earner was wholly or partially supporting himself and six others. A recent study concluded that in the economically debilitated Zimbabwean economy, the average income earner is wholly or partially supporting himself and 19 others.
This is a consequence of mass unemployment, with almost 90% of the employable population being without gainful formal employment. It is also a consequence of the HIV and Aids pandemic, Zimbabwe having an estimated 500 000 Aids orphans, and innumerable Aids widows. Moreover, with average life expectancy in Zimbabwe having more than halved in just over a decade, there is an ever-greater number of children deprived of parental support, and therefore dependant upon other relatives, and yet those relatives invariably already have a greater number of dependants, without concomitant resources to sustain them fully.
As a result, the ever-increasing numbers — in desperation — turn to crime, no matter how reluctantly they do so, perceiving no other means of funding themselves, their immediate, and extended families. Not only does need become their justification for doing so but also very often, they convince themselves that  doing so is not untoward, for they recurrently perceive the magnitude of the corruption that permeates much of the Zimbabwean political hierarchy. (Whilst, of course, not all of the high echelons of power are corrupt, nevertheless the perception is that that is a characteristic of very many, for the magnitude of the wealth of some is awesome and so great that there is an inevitable assumption that such pronounced enrichment, in less than a generation, could not have been attained wholly by legitimate means).
The corruption that prevails in Zimbabwe is very diverse, covering a broad spectrum of crime. It ranges from middle and senior management (in both public and private sectors) accepting backhanders, commissions, kickbacks, gratuities, and so forth for ensuring that contracts are awarded to those providing such largesse, and that goods and services are sourced from them, to misappropriations of goods and funds.
It includes unauthorised and untoward usage of assets of employers, such as the immense extent that governmental and private sector enterprise motor vehicles are illegitimately used to provide public transport by way of pseudo-provision of taxi and unlicensed commuter omnibus services. The varied consultation techniques include the unauthorised usage of telephone services at the expense of employers, the expropriation of office supplies such as pens, pencils, stationary, envelopes, toilet paper, cleaning materials, tea, coffee, sugar and the like. And it includes the theft of manufacturing inputs and of manufactured stocks, the issuance of fictitious expenditure vouchers and of falsified invoices, misappropriation of receipt books, falsification of travel and other expenses, and much else.
Over and above the consequential decimation of the moral fibre of Zimbabwean society, the corruption pandemic was a very major constituent to the destruction of the economy, and is a major retardant to the desperately-needed and critically- awaited economic recovery. Although there were many causes of the horrendous, world-shattering, hyperinflation that prevailed in Zimbabwe in 2008 — including government’s pronounced profligacy and endless printing of money, the gargantuan decline in industrial productivity, the near-total collapse of agriculture, the intense illegal trafficking in foreign currencies, and much else — one of the main contributors to that hyperinflation was corruption.
The costs of the widespread corruption very significantly increased the production and operating costs of businesses, resulting in massive compensatory price escalations. Those costs also impacted substantially upon the working capital requirements of virtually all enterprises. Similarly, corruption-generated costs exacerbated state deficits, and intensified the losses of most parastatals. And the intense prevalence of corruption added to the many deterrents of much-needed foreign direct investment (FDI).
The need to address this chronic national ill was recognised many years ago, when government enacted anti-corruption legislation, including the creation of the Ministry of Anti-Corruption. But the reality is that has not contained corruption. Insofar as is apparent to the populace at large, neither that legislation, nor that ministry, has done anything meaningful to curb and contain corruption. Save for a very few, very isolated, instances, no actions have been taken against any within the political hierarchy, within the corridors of government, or within parastatals, to bring Zimbabwe from its current pronounced pursuit of corruption to its impressively high, moral and ethical behaviour of the past.
No action appears to have been taken against police officers that demand spurious, unreceipted spot fines from motorists for mythical offences. There are no indications of actions against corrupt politicians, and equally corrupt members of the public service. Personnel of parastatals appear to be immune from the resources of the Ministry of Anti-Corruption. Instead, with rare exception, the legislation is invoked only against those seen as politically unacceptable, and against a few in the private sector who have attracted the malevolent attention of those with political influence or connections.
If real economic recovery is to be achieved for Zimbabwe, and if Zimbabwe is to be restored to its previously high and admirable moral, ethical and internationally recognised levels of compliance with the laws and norms of justice, it must vigorously arrest the corruption epidemic.

 

Eric Bloch