Ministers unleash fierce backlash

THE drama during the past few weeks was not over the referendum where more than three million voters suspiciously endorsed a flawed draft constitution cobbled together by Zanu PF and the MDC formations, partners in a fractious government of national unity (GNU) inexorably sliding towards the end of its tenure on June 29.

Report by Herbert Moyo

It was neither over the unprecedented spectre of the major political players speaking with one voice, urging their supporters to endorse the draft belying squabbles engulfing them in their acrimonious marriage of convenience.

It was rather in more sinister developments playing out like a theme song to a horror movie. The real drama involved daring attempts by the Zimbabwe Anti-Corruption Commission (Zacc) to raid and arrest three cabinet ministers over allegations of graft, and the backlash from the powerful officials against their now frightened investigators.

Zacc investigators were stopped in their tracks from raiding and searching offices of Mines minister Obert Mpofu, Indigenisation minister Saviour Kasukuwere and Transport minister Nicholas Goche.

After being thwarted by the High Court when they had obtained an unprocedural search warrant from the same court, Zacc officials have been put under sustained political pressure, ironically making the hunters the hunted as tables dramatically turned against them.

Apart from a sustained crackdown on civic society organisations over the past two months which has heightened political tensions, the unfolding theatrical events included the arrest of Prime Minister Morgan Tsvangirai’s office functionaries for allegedly impersonating the police and violating the Official Secrets Act, together with prominent human rights lawyer Beatrice Mtetwa who was picked up and detained for a week for purportedly shouting obscenities at the police.

Tsvangirai’s aides, Thabani Mpofu, Felix Matsinde, Warship Dumba and Mehluli Tshuma, were also arrested for allegedly conniving with Zacc officials to probe ministers and other top government officials.

So from being investigators of alleged corruption surrounding ministers and senior state officials, Zacc commissioners and their secretariat, including chief executive Ngonidzashe Gumbo who is now in jail, find themselves under investigation for graft.

Analysts say the situation shows Zimbabwe’s state institutions and leaders are not geared to fight and defeat the scourge of corruption.
Those involved in corrupt activities seem far stronger than investigators who have also weakened their anti-corruption stance by being implicated in dubious deals.

“This is proof that the Zimbabwean state has officially taken a position in defence of corrupt top government officials,” said one Zacc commissioner speaking on condition of anonymity on the crackdown on the anti-graft body’s personnel.

Justice Charles Hungwe, who initially granted Zacc the search warrant allegedly unprocedurally, has also come under a barrage of criticism from Zanu PF officials who are using state media to cast aspersions on his professionalism and character, while fighting Zacc and its officials.

“Calls for urgent review of judiciary system”, screamed one headline in a state-owned daily on Monday, while another urged “empowerment” crusader Kasukuwere to “soldier on” against the “diversionary tactics by his detractors”.

In the ministers’ fight back, Gumbo was arrested on allegations of defrauding the anti-graft body of US$435 000. When he was granted a US$1 000 bail this week, the state immediately invoked the notorious Section 121 of the Criminal Procedure and Evidence Act that allows it to keep someone in custody for seven days despite the bond.

The situation became even more melodramatic after Zacc chairperson Denford Chirindo appeared in the state media, seemingly condemning colleagues for trying to probe ministers as he exploited the fiasco over the search warrant to practically discredit and stall their investigations.

After surprisingly accepting “we (Zacc) have made mistakes and having made mistakes, we have to correct our mistakes and comply with the law”, Chirindo noted while conceding his commission was actually compromised as it had received allowances and funding from the Reserve Bank of Zimbabwe (RBZ) where, ironically, he used to work when the funding was granted.

“The commission has been compromised by receiving financial assistance from RBZ. I want to be honest; the quasi-fiscal operations started around 2006/2007. Yes, I was with the Reserve Bank and the commission actually received that assistance which was also given to various other sectors,” Chirindo said.

Therein lies the real question around events of the last few weeks: is Zimbabwe ready to seriously tackle corruption?

Do Zacc, the police, judiciary and politicians genuinely want to fight corruption? Furthermore, does Zaac still have the moral high ground to deal with corruption which has seen Zimbabwe come close to topping Transparency International’s Corruption Perceptions Index after being placed 163rd out of 176 countries in the December 2012 survey given the situation if finds itself in? Corruption, particularly in its political form, implies the use of power by government officials for illegitimate private gain.

In its various manifestations, corruption takes the form of graft, embezzlement, bribery, extortion, nepotism and patronage, among others things. Rent-seeking is another major form of corruption. The private sector is also riddled with corruption.

In the political realm, the impact of corruption is that it undermines democracy and good governance, while subverting formal processes and sabotaging economic progress.

Institute for a Democratic Alternative for Zimbabwe public policy and governance manager Jabusile Shumba said Zanu PF is fighting back and has emasculated Zacc to cover its corrupt activities ahead of forthcoming crucial elections.

“Whenever corruption reaches shocking levels that cannot be sufficiently hidden from the public eye, Zanu PF engages in ritualised displays of posturing and pretentious rhetoric, even setting up commissions of inquiry to give the impression of doing something yet there is no will to tackle the scourge,” Shumba said.

As observed by the late political analyst John Makumbe “Zacc is poorly-resourced and incapable of fighting corruption as is the Human Rights Commission and all other commissions set up by the coalition government”.

However, it appears there is more to the shenanigans than just Zacc being poorly resourced or the judiciary being intimidated by Zanu PF. Institutions tackling corruption lack the integrity and moral high ground to cast the biblical first stone at politicians, business and the rest of society.

“Not only is Zacc a toothless bulldog,” said Zimbabwe Democracy Institute director Pedzisayi Ruhanya, “there are allegations of corruption levelled against the commission itself and they cannot investigate corruption if they are not clean themselves.”

Another analyst Godwin Phiri described as unfortunate allegations of possible corruption at Zacc saying Zimbabwe is not committed to fighting corruption. “Who will guard the guards, that is the question?” Phiri said. “It is a sad development if those who are entrusted to lead the fight against corruption are themselves compromised.”

Corruption has not only been the preserve of Zanu PF. The MDC-T, initially seen as a beacon of good governance and hope, wasted no time in joining the gravy train with many of its councillors and senior officials fingered in corrupt activities.

State institutions themselves are compromised. Besides Zacc the police, prosecution department and the judiciary are all seen as partisan and unfit to fight corruption.

Given that the plague of corruption is gnawing away at the Zimbabwean society, and those entrusted with uprooting it are either unwilling or unable to do so, the economy will remain at the mercy of rampaging vampires sucking its blood dry.