Candid Comment: Zimbabwe remains a looter’s paradise

The NSSA debacle , which in turn has links with the RMB scandal, reminds us once again that unless there are serious changes to legislation in order to prevent fraud, Zimbabwe will continue to be bleed from it. And that’s a serious indictment on the management of our economy. 

For, what investor would want to put their money where the chances of it being misappropriated are more than high? When international fund managers search for destinations for the moneys entrusted them, they not only look at companies where profit could be made, but where there are companies with sound management. What happened at NSSA is far from sound and we have reason to believe this is ongoing as shall be demonstrated elsewhere in this paper.

Those in the know call the activities at NSSA self-dealing, a phenomenon where leaders (or rather misleaders) of corporate bodies organize for goods to be supplied to the companies they head at inflated prices. Working for a major newspaper company in the country, the writer was  once involved in an investigative story in which management was involved in self-dealing. The story became the scandal of the year. However, one was surprised to see that after all the brouhaha, which included the incumbents going through the courts and all, the culprits were back on the streets shortly afterwards, scot free, as if nothing had happened.

Expectations were that the miscreants would be forced to pay back the monies they had stolen but this was never to be. In fact there are many such people that were involved in similar financial shenaniganss who have really never been brought to book. They constitute many of the “businessmen’ who today live in fortresses and drive cars that look like spacecraft. Remember Gilbert Muponda of the ENG scandal?  and David Matanganyidze of the Access to Capital fame?

 

Did those investors ever get their money back?  Never. Why? Because, as William Shakespeare said, “the law is an ass”. This is particularly true of Zimbabwean law. It rewards high level corruption and punishes petty offences line vending and hawking. Do not be fooled, many so-called executives are accomplished fraudsters, with a trail of destruction of companies behind them.

They know that the law doesn’t compel them to restore what they have stolen, unlike in the US where one has to pay back four times what they stole. Which reminds one, are we ever going to see changes to the Companies Act as we’ve been promised? It’s doubtful, because updated company law must, given international trends, include issues of corporate governance and business ethics. This is anathema to the ruling elite, including the inclusive government. It’s like asking turkeys to vote for any early Christmas.

All the same, our laws must one day not allow an executive to steal money and get away with it. There should be disincentives to corruption. The law should have a clear position that once it’s proven that one has stolen, steps should be taken to recover the money. And if you steal a dollar you should pay back a dollar or even more. 

Just sending the culprit to prison, if it ever happens, doesn’t’ sort out the prejudice caused to the victims. So in the case of the NSSA scandal, how is government going to get our money back from those crooks? It has a duty to do so. It’s not good enough to just tell us that corrective measures are being taken to ensure that this won’t happen again, because it will. It will because there is no disincentive for it not to happen.

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