Crack whip on ‘flies’ and ‘tigers’

A RECENT CNN article titled Is China’s corruption crackdown really a political purge?

Editor’s Memo with Stewart Chabwinja

says the Chinese are passionate about fighting corruption, which they liken to “a rat scampering across the street with everyone shouting ‘beat it up!’”

In the Asian country’s war on corruption, Chinese President Xi Jinping’s administration has been targeting Communist Party and government officials believed to be corrupt, be they “flies”, as they say in China, (in Zimbabwe’s parlance, the “small fish”) or “tigers” (big chefs).

You would imagine that given China is the ruling Zanu PF’s “all-weather” friend and ostensibly its role model, President Robert Mugabe would take a leaf from the Chinese anti-corruption campaign.

Mugabe’s angry denunciation of corruption in which he fingered former Zimbabwe Mining Development Corporation board chairperson and losing Zanu PF parliamentary candidate Godwills Masimirembwa was of such force it must have won over even some of his harshest critics.

Addressing a luncheon to mark the official opening of parliament on Tuesday, Mugabe passionately slammed corruption, while insisting there would be zero tolerance of it and, for good measure, even supplied details of Masimirembwa’s alleged culpability in a botched Marange diamond mining deal.
The anti-corruption motif was also evident at the opening of parliament.
“My government will exercise zero tolerance to the scourge of corruption,” Mugabe said.

This is better than his earlier claim he could not act against corrupt officials because there is no evidence. While on the surface Mugabe’s new-found anti-corruption crusade sounds impressive, his sound and fury is not enough, especially given the history of his government’s failure to combat corruption. For him to be believed or taken seriously, Mugabe needs to stop just shouting and act.

A report by Transparency International Zimbabwe for 2012 says corruption is institutionalised, with most cases cited involving the police, politicians, Registrar-General’s Office and the Grain Marketing Board, among others.

Besides, there are cases of corruption which have been brought to Mugabe’s attention, but nothing was done about them. The case of Local Government minister Ignatius Chombo quickly comes to mind.

So while his remarks on corruption are encouraging, until Mugabe translates his threats into long overdue action, showing in the process his government would not be a toothless bulldog on the issue and won’t spare even those in top echelons of power, no one will seriously believe him.

Mugabe must learn from his comrades in China who take no prisoners on corruption — Xi is cracking the whip. As a result, Bo Xilai, a former party chief now awaiting a court verdict after a recent sensational trial on charges of bribery, embezzlement and abuse of power, is on the ropes.

Xi appears to even risk tearing the Communist Party apart through the anti-corruption drive, as the campaign has also snared a former railway minister who was given a suspended death sentence, and also a former deputy minister of the powerful national development and reform commission.

While the Masimirembwa probe could be a starting point, sceptics will point out he is rather a small fry in the grand scheme of things.

Investigations on political heavyweights who became rich overnight, most of whom are in Mugabe’s patronage network and elite circles, will convince cynical Zimbabweans that there are no sacred cows.

There are just too many of Mugabe’s cronies and party bigwigs, some permanent fixtures in his cabinet, who can’t explain their vast wealth. Some are implicated in well-publicised shady deals at the Marange diamond fields.

Culprits in high-profile corruption cases like the VIP housing scam, looting of the war victims’ compensation fund and most recently the Constituency Development Fund should have been held to account to send a strong message corruption won’t be tolerated.

So if Mugabe is serious he must now crack the whip like Xi on the “flies” and “tigers”.