IN many countries, especially more advanced democracies with developed economies, damning revelations of irregularities such as those by Comptroller and Auditor-General Mildred Chiri which include inflated payments and gross violations of set regulations bordering on brazen corruption within various government ministries and departments would certainly cause a huge public outcry and heads to roll.
Chiri’s last report for the financial year-ended December 2011, which was tabled before parliament a fortnight ago, cited various striking anomalies that include unvouched expenditure, failure to maintain proper assets records and lack of internal control systems to safeguard assets against loss and pilferage, as well as violations of tender procedures.
“In violation of Treasury instructions,” wrote Chiri, “several ministries failed to produce for audit examination source documents such as invoices, receipts and goods received notes to support payments charged against their votes.
“In the absence of payment vouchers, I could not satisfy myself whether the expenditure was incurred for the intended purpose.”
But analysts say the report is unlikely to lead to the gnashing of teeth in trepidation on the part of the culprits –– after all this is Zimbabwe, a mismanaged and poverty-stricken Third World country which over the years has repeatedly scored poorly in various perception indices such as country risk and corruption.
While ordinary Zimbabweans are fighting for survival and to ensure their country returns back to normalcy where good governance, accountability and transparency are upheld, some senior government officials and their cohorts entrusted with public affairs are busy siphoning public resources and running down the nation.
Although President Robert Mugabe, in power for 33 years now, and his Zanu PF party claim to be fighting corruption, nothing concrete is being done to combat the scourge.
Even if Mugabe expresses occasional bouts of anger, threatening fire and brimstone as he did in September, alleging former Zimbabwe Mining Development Corporation (ZMDC) chairperson Godwills Masimirembwa allegedly received a US$6 million bribe in a botched diamond mining deal, it usually ends as mere rhetoric.
Besides the Willowvale Motor Industries scandal where ministers were fired in 1989 after being implicated in corruption when venality was still officially frowned upon, Mugabe’s successive governments have hardly tackled the problem seriously.
Analysts say Mugabe’s failure to deal with many corruption scandals in government exposed by the media over the years shows lack of moral suasion, political will and seriousness. The case of Local Government Minister Ignatius Chombo is one example. And now the virtual collapse of the Masimirembwa case further proves the point.
Government’s deafening silence on Chiri’s last report and previous ones detailing gross irregularities on the part of government officials and their ministries raises many questions about Mugabe and Zanu PF’s commitment to confronting the problem and addressing people’s socio-economic plight, while ensuring a functioning and prosperous economy.
Ideally, the audit reports should be the basis of concrete action like initiating investigations and prosecutions where necessary to restore public confidence in government and its institutions. This would, to some extent, help mitigate the perception that Zanu PF is inherently corrupt and survives through a patronage system that has ruined the economy.
Analysts say progress and improved standards of living will continue to be an elusive dream for Zimbabweans as long as policymakers fail to appreciate the connection between bad governance and corruption with economic decline.
Chiri’s last audit report is just as revealing and damning as previous ones and the irregularities extend to Mugabe’s office which paid for assets valued at US$450 000 without attaching invoices to validate the payments.
“For the second year running the office did not record assets that it purchased to guard against pilferage and/or personalisation,” wrote Chiri.
Former Prime Minister Morgan Tsvangirai and ministries under the MDC-T during the coalition government were equally guilty. There were irregularities in their portfolios as well.
Political analyst Godwin Phiri says politicians from the different parties “take good corporate governance and public administration lightly yet these issues go to the very heart of how the economy works and how a country should be governed”.
“It (the report) exposes these politicians as hypocrites who pretend to be concerned about the welfare of ordinary people yet they are the ones who fail to act when public funds are misused,” said Phiri.
Allegations of high-level corruption in Zimbabwe have also been made by no less an authority than Mugabe’s ally, former South African President Thabo Mbeki. Mugabe revealed last year that Mbeki had told him two of his ministers demanded bribes in excess of US$10 million from ANC-linked businessmen who wanted to do business in Zimbabwe, but to this day no-one has been held to account over the matter.
Dumisani Nkomo, another analyst, said it is time government started to walk the talk on corruption which is ruining the economy.
“They create institutions like the Anti-Corruption Commission which are just paper tigers. Even the new constitution (Chapter Nine) has specific provisions on principles of public administration and leadership but what we really need is the implementation,” said Nkomo.
Analysts say it appears government will just bury its head in the sand and blame everyone else except itself without acknowledging its shortcomings on the issue. Nowhere was this more evident than last Thursday when during a government briefing to Western diplomats, Foreign Affairs minister Simbarashe Mumbengegwi chided Western countries for channelling development assistance through non-governmental organisations.
“Your money will be properly accounted for if it comes through government,” said Mumbengegwi, suggesting that he was either unaware of the Chiri report or was simply engaged in deception.
Donors have been seriously concerned about how their monies are used because most of the aid given to Zimbabwe and other African countries for decades has not helped to improve their economies and standards of living. While some of the problems of donor funding lie inherently on the model itself and structural issues, corruption is certainly an issue as well.
Churches have joined the chorus calling on government to be accountable to the populace and demonstrate commitment to fight corruption and promote efficiency in the civil service.
“Church leaders want the government to be transparent in the discharge of its duties,” said Solomon Zwana, general secretary of the Zimbabwe Council of Churches.
“On corruption, there seems to be a lack of seriousness in tackling the scourge. We have heard a lot of pronouncements but we are yet to see real action. We need less rhetoric and more action.”
Perhaps Zimbabwe needs a Thuli Madonsela (South African Public Protector) to tackle corruption head on.