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Govt must act on corruption

Erich Bloch

ONE of the many factors underlying the distress of the Zimbabwean economy is the magnitude of corruption that prevails in almost all sectors. Most Zimbabweans are inherently honest, but when a man is constantly hungry, that honesty disappears and is replaced by desperate recourse to crime in general, and corruption in particular, in order to survive.Moreover, the tendency to abandon the straight and narrow ends up being institutionalised through usage. With Zimbabwe’s economy having withered and increasingly decimated for most of 15 years, save for some very modest recovery between 2009 and 2011, Zimbabwean poverty is intense.
Unemployment has risen to about 80%. Significantly, more than half of the population is struggling to survive on incomes very markedly below the poverty datum line. Thousands are homeless and cannot afford education for their children, while even more cannot afford health care.
The streets of cities and towns have many beggars who can also be found loitering at traffic-light intersections, and outside supermarkets and banks. Most community-service trusts and other organisations are strapped for cash, as need for their aid and assistance intensify exponentially, while traditional donors become less and less able to provide for them due to financial problems in their home countries. International donors are battling to overcome the consequences of economic and financial recession in most first-world countries. Meanwhile, Zimbabwean enterprises struggle to survive the deluge of the country’s ills.
Therefore, more and more Zimbabweans have resorted to crime and corruption in their desperate efforts to make ends meet. They justify their actions on the basis of survival unlike national leaders who resort to crime and corruption for self-enrichment.
I recall travelling to Harare from Bulawayo some years ago seated next to a government minister. The minister asked: “Why are you travelling to Harare?” to which I replied that I was to participate in and speak at a conference on corruption. The minister immediately responded: “That’s a very good thing, because by now there are only two honest people left in Zimbabwe!”
My immediate response was: “Really! Me and who else?” The minister had the grace to stop the conversation forthwith, for many a true word is spoken in jest.
It is common knowledge that there is massive corruption in many ministries, government departments and parastatals. Contracts are often awarded on the basis of “hand-backs”, euphemistically referred to as “commission”. Money is wasted in paying people in ministries, government departments or parastatals “commissions” for furtherance of the purposes for which their entities exist.
Another prime example of wasted resources is the frequency of international travel. Here it’s not only the delegate that travels, but a host of others accompanying him who invariably end up doing nothing abroad but shop and have leisure.
Many assets of the public sector entities are not used for their intended purpose but for personal benefit of employees with access to them. This ranges from relatively minor items such as stationery, to reckless usage of telephones including personal international calls, to the use of state-owned vehicles for wholly-private purposes. These are but a few examples of many corrupt practices in the public sector.
A stunning example of corruption was the disclosure approximately 16 months ago that the public service was employing more than 40 000 “ghost workers”. This involved having fictitious names on the government’s payroll, where the creators of this bogus payroll are the beneficiaries of the monthly pay-cheques. Insofar as known, a year after that disclosure, ghost-worker payments are still being effected.
Yet another prevailing corrupt practice is that pursued by some members of the Zimbabwe Republic Police. Whilst many police officers fulfill their duties with utmost probity and correctness, there are those who blatantly resort to corrupt practices. All too frequently, one hears of spurious charges being imposed at road blocks (mainly on national highways) for specious offences.
Those range from demands that drivers have reflective vests — whereas no such requirement has been gazetted, in contrast to the valid gazetting of the requirement every vehicle must have fire extinguishers and red warning triangles — to allegations of over-speeding, or traversing continuous centre-lines where no such lines exist. Not only are spot fines unlawfully imposed, but the payment of those fines is pocketed by
the police officer, without the issue of a receipt.
Yet other public sector corrupt practices are those of some MPs who unreservedly draw their salaries and allowances, notwithstanding their almost total failure to attend parliamentary sessions. Some of them unhesitatingly make claims for expenditure reimbursements for expenses not incurred by them. Yet others have no qualms or reservations about using their positions and influence to obtain business opportunities.
Recent key examples are those who have secured expropriated farms under Zimbabwe’s chaotic land reform programme, or equity in businesses pursuant to the equally abhorrent manner in which indigenisation and economic empowerment are being pursued. Similarly, several of them as well as the military and others in the public sector
domain have allegedly amassed proceeds
from the massive diamond resources in Marange.
But corruption has not been the sole preserve of the public sector. Many in the private sector are equally culpable. Many of the “new” farmers were assisted by government and the Reserve Bank with agricultural equipment and inputs, but failed to utilise them for the intended enhancement of Zimbabwe’s agricultural production.
Instead, immediately upon receipt the goods were sold, including many sales (especially so during the pre-multicurrency period) to farmers in neighbouring countries. Likewise, many employees in commerce and industry, the financial and other sectors have emulated (and continue to do so) those in the public sector in the expropriation of stock-in-trade, manufacturing inputs, consumable commodities, and stationery.
They are also involved in the unlawful and unauthorised usage of employers’ assets such as motor vehicles, endless private telephone calls and the like.
Years ago, government established the Anti-Corruption Commission, but to date the only evidence of action by that commission is the pursuit of vendettas of those with political connections.
If the economy is to not to be continuously weakened by ongoing corruption government, or the Anti-Corruption Commission must urgently, without fear or favour, take forceful actions to contain the cancer of corruption.

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