Zacc, ZHRC rendered paper tigers

TO many Zimbabweans, the setting up of the Zimbabwe Human Rights Commission (ZHRC) and the reconstitution of the Zimbabwe Anti-Corruption Commission (Zacc) into a supposedly crack unit along the lines of South Africa’s Scorpions, gave hope that government was finally serious about fighting human rights abuses and corruption.

Herbert Moyo

However, five years after setting up the ZHRC and reconstituting Zacc, government has shown lack of political will and commitment to fight corruption and human rights abuses.

The government once again failed to provide funding to Zacc and ZHRC, rendering them paper tigers formed to give the impression government is fighting corruption and human rights abuses, yet it can be argued it is fuelling the vices through omission and commission.

Finance minister Patrick Chinamasa glaringly omitted Zacc and ZHRC in his 2014 budget allocations, raising more questions about government’s commitment to fight corruption and human rights abuses.

“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,” observed the late anti-corruption and human rights activist, John Makumbe, in an interview with this paper in 2012 on the side-lines of public discussions held in Harare on the establishment of independent commissions during the constitution-making exercise.

While there has been no mention of Zacc and ZHRC — which have been lamenting about under-funding in the budget — eyebrows have been raised over the allocation of a US$206 million to the Office of the President and Cabinet.

This allocation (5,6% of the total US$3,6 billion budget) is more than the combined allocations to the ministries of Industry and Commerce, Agriculture, and Mines and Energy — key to the country’s economic recovery.

To its credit, government has moved along with international best practices and set up independent commissions such as Zacc and the ZHRC seen as necessary in deepening democratic practice, but political analysts are pessimistic that the setting up of the commissions will amount to anything more than cosmetic changes by a government more concerned with maintaining its political hegemony by means fair or foul.

“The huge chunk of the budget allocation given to the Office of the President at the expense of Zacc and other key stakeholders is a clear testimony of where the Zanu PF government’s priorities lie,” said political analyst Godwin Phiri.

“There is a desire to ensure President Robert Mugabe and his colleagues maintain their stranglehold on power, hence the allocation to the office which includes the Central Intelligence Office (CIO) and Didymus Mutasa’s Presidential Affairs ministry. Patronage and corruption will continue to flourish while ZHRC and Zacc remain compromised due to under-funding,” Phiri added.

Such concerns appear not misplaced after it also emerged last week that since 2012, the under-funded Zacc has been trying to investigate a case in which Zimbabwe National Road Administration (Zinara) chief executive officer Frank Chitukutuku is alleged to have connived with Umguza Rural District Council chief executive Collen Moyo in 2010 to flout tender procedures, prejudicing the state of more than US$2 million.

This case is just one of the many whose investigation Zacc has failed to conclude in reasonable time due to under-funding and undue interference from powerful politicians.

The failure to fund the independent commissions was understandable, according to another political analyst Brian Raftopoulos, who wrote of Zanu PF’s “obstructive politics and patronage networks” in his book The Hard Road to Reform, which was published last year.

Raftopoulos suggests that government is less serious about implementing international best practices that entrench democracy as it is about obstructing these in order to centralise power in its hands and maintain its hegemony.

“The obstructive politics has also manifested itself in the blockages that Mugabe’s party has placed before the implementation of various democratising provisions of the (Global Political Agreement, precursor to the ended unity government) GPA. Zanu PF has also hindered the workings of the ZHRC and the (now defunct) Joint Monitoring and Implementation Committee,” wrote Raftopoulos.

And it was this frustration that forced former ZHRC chairperson Reg Austin to resign saying the “establishment of the commission has been a tale of unreadiness, delay, lack of commitment and serious focus”.

As long as government continues paying this kind of lip service to Zacc and other commissions, it will remain ineffective in dealing with corruption which has seen Zimbabwe come close to topping Transparency International’s Corruption Perceptions Index after being placed 157 out of 177 countries in the December 2013 survey. Last year, Zimbabwe ranked 163rd out of 176 countries.

In the political realm, the impact of corruption is that it undermines democracy and good governance, while subverting formal processes and sabotaging economic progress.
Past ZHRC chairperson Jacob Mudenda also bemoaned under-funding and lack of independence of ZHRC saying this compromised its ability to discharge its functions.

“We use our own vehicles or public transport, something that is not right for this highly esteemed institution,” said Mudenda last year during a parliamentary hearing, adding the law also needed to be changed to allow the commission to be more independent from government. He said government should only have oversight of the body’s finances, not its investigations.