SIX years ago while on a flight to Harare I was seated next to a cabinet minister who had been a friend for many years.
Approximately half-way through the flight he enquired as to the purpose of my trip to Harare. I responded that I would be attending a conference where I would be making a presentation on corruption.
His immediate reaction was: “Oh, that’s a very good thing! By now there are only two persons in Zimbabwe who are not corrupt”.
To which I instantly replied: “Really! Me, and who else!” Obviously, this was only intended to be a joke between friends and it was so accepted, but at the same time it had the underlying message that corruption in Zimbabwe was very pronounced.
As extensive as corruption was in 2008, it is now worse in both public and the private sectors. Within the public sector it is many of the “powers that be” who are primarily responsible for governance of Zimbabwe that have resorted to different corrupt practices.
For how else can it be possible that persons who had very few assets and modest resources when they first entered national governance now have vast wealth?
The bigwigs have acquired numerous city centre properties of high value, including shopping centres and office blocks. Many of them have also acquired readily lettable industrial, residential and other properties.
Almost all of them have several farms, and even if attained without cost via the 99-year governmental leases, they have expended considerable funds on developments on the farms, including grandiose homesteads, tobacco barns, boreholes and irrigation equipment, tractors and much. Where did all funding come from, if not from pursuit of corrupt practices?
Concurrently, many of the senior government officials have acquired other assets including equity holdings in banks and other financial institutions, also in manufacturing enterprises; operations in the retail and wholesale sectors, transport businesses, and palatial residences.
How they have accessed the funding to acquire all such assets is suspicious, but it is incontrovertible that their vast wealth could not have emanated from their salaries.
It is likely that the funding has been partially obtained through falsified expenditure claims, receipt of bribes to motivate the awarding of contracts, or other decisions desired by the third parties willing to pay the bribes.
However, within the corridors of government it is not only ministers and their deputies who are corrupt, but also permanent secretaries, their deputies and many civil servants in general. The nature of corruption varies considerably, with senior personnel resorting to the acceptance of bribes in exchange for awarding contracts, misuse of state-owned vehicles, inflation of expenditure claims, unauthorised travel, and much more.
Lower-level corrupt civil servants engage in activities such as misappropriation of stationery, refreshments and cleaning supplies, unauthorised usage of telephone facilities and other activities.
These corrupt deeds substantially contribute to the magnitude of the fiscal deficit.
That, in turn, is a major barrier to government accessing international loan funding, as to all intents and purposes it is bankrupt.
The parlous state of government’s finances is also a major deterrent to potential Foreign Direct Investment, thereby constraining Zimbabwean economic recovery and wellbeing. Concurrently, the magnitude of public sector corruption provokes high levels of international distrust in any interactions within Zimbabwe that involve the public sector.
The corruption in the public sector is worsening for the perpetrators have become even greedier. Fortunately, recently the media has been exposing the corruption.
There have been exposés of the “obscene unauthorised salaries and ancillary employment benefits senior executives of many parastatals and other public entities have been helping themselves to. At best, all such executives should be forced to refund such thefts.
Corrupt practices are not exclusive to the public sector but also prevail in the private sector. Although most Zimbabweans are inherently honest, that honesty is progressively eroded and disappears when their children are hungry or dying from hunger, and when it is exposed national leadership is corrupt.
Those few still fortunate enough to be in gainful employment in most instances do not earn enough to support themselves, their families and other dependants, especially as the numbers of dependants progressively increase as a result of unemployment, HIV/Aids and other circumstances.
As a result, the greater number of those in employment now seeks to enhance its resources, even if only marginally, despite their considerable reluctance to abandon their principles of honesty, by resorting to corrupt practices. These include acceptance of bribes from suppliers wishing to enter into contracts with the employer organisations, misappropriation of stock-in-trade and other operational supplies, misuse of company assets in general and much else.
A key consequence of all these corrupt practices is the jeopardisation of profitability and viability of the business operations causing, among others, reduction in the numbers employed, diminished payments to the fiscus and reduced economic activity.
Although a government anti-corruption commission has existed for many years, corruption has in fact increased, thus eroding the national image. Government must urgently and resolutely address the widespread corruption by prosecuting offenders regardless of their status.