Corruption concerns stall deals

ZIMBABWE’S much-touted multi-million dollar “mega-deals” with China remain pies in the sky amid indications the Asian giant has set stringent pre-conditions for their implementation, including reform of the country’s parastatals to plug revenue leakages, staff capacitation as well as the promotion of transparency and accountability.

Herbert Moyo/Taurai Mangudhla

In meetings this week with senior government officials, a visiting Chinese delegation raised various grave concerns including viability of parastatals and rampant corruption within government.

The National Development and Reform Commission of China delegation, which arrived in the country on Sunday, signed a Memorandum of Understanding (MoU) on Wednesday on reforming parastatals, establishing and administering Special Economic Zones as well as the planning and administration of small to medium enterprises.

The MoU is the latest in a long list that includes MoUs signed last August during President Robert Mugabe’s state visit to China that brought temporary optimism of foreign direct investment as Zimbabwe battles to recover from a debilitating economic crisis, which has spawned a liquidity crunch, company closures and rising unemployment.

But any lingering hopes of a quick implementation of the “mega deals” signed by Mugabe are fast fading as the Chinese insist on parastatal reform accompanied by feasibility studies that could be time-consuming.

Zimbabwe’s parastatals have become synonymous with corruption, patronage and mismanagement, among other shortcomings, making them a perennial drain on the country’s struggling fiscus.

In separate briefings, top government officials who attended the meetings said the 13-member Chinese government delegation, which included a think-tank, spoke of the urgent need to reform parastatals.

A senior government official said: “It is clear that the Chinese want to see a shake-up and reform in the parastatals. They are alarmed by the revenue leakages in these state enterprises which would be implementing the deals should the feasibility studies prove favourable.”

Another top government official said: “They are eager to ensure staff is capacitated with the requisite skills to ensure transparency and accountability so that funds are not diverted to people’s pockets.”
The Chinese are said to have emphasised the need for tough action on corrupt public officials to ensure efficiency in implementation.

At one meeting, Finance minister Patrick Chinamasa also acknowledged the need for parastatal reform, saying they could learn from their Asian counterparts. The Chinese embassy told this paper that it was too early for them to comment on the visit.

In her report released a fortnight ago for the year ending December 31, 2013, Auditor-General Mildred Chiri slammed government ministries and parastatals for their culture of poor corporate governance leading to the loss of millions of dollars in public funds.