The ongoing Constituency Development Fund (CDF) audit has unearthed acts of corruption among MPs as well as ministers; which in itself is a microcosm of the broader societal battle with rampant graft, including bribery, fraud, embezzlement and extortion.
As a result four MPs were arrested for abusing US$50 000 funds, but Attorney-General Johannes Tomana (pictured) recently moved to stop the Zimbabwe Anti-Corruption Commission (ZACC) from nailing legislators accused of fraudulently converting constituency development funds for their own use at the expense of the people they represent. As the arrests gathered momentum, Tomana, from nowhere, halted the process, accusing the anti-corruption commission of rushing to arrest the lawmakers before carrying out thorough investigations.
Tomana, who has been accused of trying to selectively prosecute his political opponents mainly from the two MDC parties on baseless charges, claimed that ZACC was “clumsy” and had congested his office with piece-meal evidence of arrests based on information gathered through newspapers or individuals. He then insisted he will not prosecute lawmakers on “flimsy allegations”.
This sparked controversy. The commission’s chairperson Denford Chirindo hit back, saying his campaign against corruption would continue unabated.
“ZACC has noted with great concern several press reports suggesting that directives had been given to ZACC to stop or hold in abeyance investigations into allegations over the Constituency Development Fund,” Chirindo said.
“ZACC will continue to investigate all cases thoroughly, professionally, without fear, favour or prejudice. ZACC would like to reiterate unequivocally and unreservedly in terms of its mandate and powers that it will continue to investigate all reports relating to any cases of corruption, theft, misappropriation, abuse of power and other improprieties, including abuse of constituency development funds.”
Tomana’s action brought back the memories of similar state interventions on corruption once big names became involved. Zimbabwe has witnessed this since the Willowgate scandal in 1988. Since then, the political elite have lived another day to loot with tacit approval from the government which lacks the moral fibre and political will to root out the scourge.
The government has in the past made half-hearted inquiries into corruption cases involving powerful politicians. In some cases government simply failed to act despite overwhelming evidence of corruption. Examples of scandals in which government failed to act adequately against abuse of public funds include the Civil Servants Housing Scheme, War Veterans Compensation Fund and multiple farm ownership under the controversial land reform from 2000, among others.
The CDF facility was open to abuse. No legal safeguards and clear-cut accountability procedures were put in place. For the first time since independence, MPs directly got funding from treasury and in the absence of checks and balances, the money was at the mercy of corrupt politicians.
MPs from across the political divide predictably misappropriated the funds. The Constitutional and Parliamentary Affairs ministry accused MPs of abuse of the fund, theft and in certain instances failure to utilise the money after some legislators just left it in bank accounts for more than 13 months.
The CDF scam comes hard on the heels of the Willowvale civil servants housing scandal under Housing minister Giles Mutsekwa. Mutsekwa’s National Housing and Amenities ministry has largely remained unmoved and no heads have rolled thus far, meaning corrupt individuals remain protected despite evidence of abuse.
Zanu PF chief whip Joram Gumbo blamed the CDF scandal on the executive which rushed to introduce the project without putting legal safeguards.
“The ministry did not take advice. I had recommended that we can’t give money directly to MPs,” Gumbo said, “There was no accounting system in place to run that fund smoothly.”
Social commentator Blessing Vava said inaction by the coalition government on corruption reflected failure of leadership and attempts to protect those with skeletons in its closets.
“The whole system is rotten from the top such that if investigations are to be conducted by a professional body, you will realise that almost everyone in that government would go to prison,” Vava said.
The MDC-T has promised to investigate cases of corruption and take action against its members found guilty. However, nothing much has been done in that regard.
The CDF abuse closely resembles the Willowgate scandal. Both involved MPs who abused their privilege to corruptly benefit from state resources. In Willowgate, MPs and ministers had access to cheap Toyota Cressida vehicles which they sold at a premium to the public. Those caught in the web and were convicted received presidential pardons. Some, for instance Zimbabwe’s ambassador to China Frederick Shava, were even rewarded later, showing how the executive tolerated corruption.
The Local Government ministry under Ignatius Chombo has been accused of corruption but nothing has been done about it. Prime Minister Morgan Tsvangirai has tried unsuccessfully to seek President Robert Mugabe’s authority to have Chombo investigated but all in vain. Instead Chombo has now taken to probing others, MDC mayors and councillors on allegations of corruption in a move widely seen as diversion. Chombo has been cracking down on Harare, Masvingo, Bindura, Chegutu, Kariba, Mutare and Chitungwiza.
However, Chombo has not been swift in dissolving councils led by Zanu PF except interfering in Harare’s affairs at different times. Chombo’s vast wealth and allegations of corruption came to public attention during his acrimonious divorce case with his wife Marian. The inventory of property that should be shared includes nearly hundred properties scattered across Zimbabwe.
Government’s incoherent approach in dealing with corruption and selective application of the law exposes authorities’ insincerity in dealing with the scourge. All signs currently show a continued “business as usual” approach even under the present coalition arrangement while corruption remains rampant.
Corruption will not be rooted out so long as authorities allow rent-seeking, discretionary powers, monopolies, lack of transparency and accountability and the prevailing culture of impunity to remain in our national affairs.