Corruption has been allowed to flourish unchecked among Mugabe’s close political associates.
In 2006 at the Zanu PF central committee meeting, he lambasted top Zanu PF officials saying they want to acquire wealth through “self-aggrandisement”.
“These cases are increasing in number. What has become of us? You are not being fair…Some of you are being crooks even in leadership positions,” he said.
However, to many analysts Mugabe’s tirades are hypocritical because it is his government that has fuelled corruption through his policy of political patronage.
As early as 1988 the then Zanu PF secretary-general, Edgar Tekere, warned Mugabe that corruption in high places was gnawing at the country’s economic fabric. The president ignored the warning and fired Tekere the following year from both party and government, saying he had failed to substantiate allegations of massive corruption by top ministers.
More than 20 years later a damning report by the Comptroller and Auditor-General, Mildred Chiri, for the first quarter of the 2009 financial year has exposed corruption through abuse of state resources by top government officials.
It has revealed unlawful recruitment of over 10 000 youths during the countdown to last year’s violent presidential election run-off. The youths were deployed countrywide as ward officers, which Chiri said was a violation of a treasury instructions, stating that no officer shall be appointed unless an appropriate vacancy exists.
Between May and June 27 — the day of the presidential runoff — there was widespread political violence across the country. The Morgan Tsvangirai led MDC alleged that close to 200 of its supporters were killed and thousands tortured and injured by Zanu PF youths, war veterans and state security agents.
The audit report reveals that several ministers and their deputies and permanent secretaries removed vehicles from the ministries where they had been working before the formation of the inclusive government. Gross financial mismanagement was also exposed in the report, with some ministers being alleged to have diverted state funds for unauthorised use. But how much power does the Comptroller and Auditor-General have to ensure that named abusers of government resources are prosecuted? Unfortunately, Chiri can only make recommendations based on the findings to the ministries and it is up to each ministry to act.
Transparency International Zimbabwe executive director Mary-Jane Ncube said the Auditor-General has no mechanisms to ensure that her recommendations are enforced by law.
“The starting point is that the Act (the Audit and Exchequer Act) needs to be amended. She can only make recommendations to the ministry and the president and does not have the power to force action in law,” Ncube said.
“There should be more punitive measures to make sure people are accountable to resources. The idea is to try and permit the Auditor-General not to just make recommendations because as long as they continue to do that, they will become a redundant office and there will be there just for the show, with no power.”
In order to take punitive and deterrent measures against corruption, Ncube said clear synergies should exist in law between oversight organs, such as the parliamentary Committee on Public Accounts, Auditor-General and administrative or regulatory bodies.
“If these are not defined in law or public policy it becomes difficult to establish, implement and monitor accountability, transparency and integrity in these key institutions,” she said.
The report has been tabled in parliament and the public accounts committee chaired by MDC-T’s Tapiwa Mashakada now has to take action and make recommendations to the executive.
Mashakada said his committee was going to summon those top government officers, including ministers, mentioned in the report.
He said the report makes shocking revelations that expose gross irregularities on how public resources are being managed.
Mashakada said it was a tip of the iceberg — a sample showing how rampant corruption is in government.
“We are going to hold an emergency meeting next week on Monday and subpoena the concerned ministers and their deputies and everyone named. We are going to leave no stone unturned in order to make sure state resources are accounted for,” he said. “We are determined to put a brake to this. We will recommend that they be prosecuted. We will recommend that heads should roll.”
His committee, Mashakada said, was going to push for reforms so that it has powers to arrest those with cases to answer.
In Uganda, he said, officers from the criminal investigation department sat in on all meetings held by the public accounts committee — something which Zimbabwe could also do.
Mugabe has the power to appoint and fire, but has been reluctant to deal with corruption in the past, thus creating a climate in which it has spread uncontrollable. It will, therefore, be interesting to see how those named either by name or by their portfolios will be dealt with.
Mashakada said: “Mugabe is staring at fresh empirical evidence and we want to see what he is going to do. Because of a culture of impunity, they have gotten away with murder. This inclusive government must set an example now.”
Some of the top officials named include ministers Obert Mpofu, Nicholas Goche and Joseph Made, ex-ministers Sikhanyiso Ndlovu and Chris Mushowe and ex-deputy ministers Bright Matonga and Pheneas Chiota and deputy minister Hubert Nyanhongo.
Ncube said in other countries such gross abuse would have forced the top officials to either resign or be fired. Government corruption became obvious 18 years ago when investigative reporters uncovered the so-called “Willowgate” scandal in which several ministers were proved to have acquired vehicles at knockdown prices from the Willowvale Mazda Motor Industry assembly plant in Harare and then resold for huge profits.
There was also widespread abuse of funds from the VIP housing scheme in 1995 with ministers and their relatives, top military officers and civil servants being allocated luxury homes at low prices.
This scandal was followed soon afterwards by the plunder of the War Victims’ Compensation Fund, set up to help those who had participated and were injured during the country’s liberation struggle. Once again, there were no arrests or prosecutions.
There was more recently abuse of fuel allocated to new farmers at heavily subsidised prices which was resold on the black market.
As farms were expropriated from white owners in 2000, some ministers acquired multiple farms. Mugabe has so far instituted seven land audits, all of which have confirmed that many of his ministers and senior police, intelligence and military officials possessed more than one farm.
In 2003 he declared that he would deal with those who had seized more than one property, but no action has been taken to this day.
In 2006 allegations were made against a number of senior politicians concerning misappropriation of funds at the Zimbabwe Iron and Steel Company.
Recently a number of Zanu PF and government officials have been implicated in the smuggling of precious minerals since the discovery of diamonds in the Chiadzwa district of Manicaland.
Mugabe even lashed out in an interview to mark his 83rd birthday at ministers whom he said were greedy and involved in smuggling of gold and diamonds,
Although central bank governor Gideon Gono and the police said they had named the people to the president, nothing was done. The failure to take action in this long series of corrupt episodes has created a widespread perception that corruption is acceptable in high places.