No end in sight to institutionalised corruption

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THE adage old habits die hard tersely captures the goings-on at government ministries, state entities and local authorities where entrenched graft, abuse of scarce public resources and misgovernance remain the modus operandi, much to the detriment of efforts to rescue the sinking economy.

Candid Comment by Stewart Chabwinja

Corruption findings — contained in the latest report by Auditor-General Mildred Chiri for 2014 — reprise a recurring theme, but also eloquently speak to government’s reluctance or lack of capacity to stem the rot.

Even the spectre of total economic collapse, manifest in government’s growing strain in meeting public service salary obligations and basic social service provision, has failed to inhibit a ruinous maladministration culture. Not to mention sensational media revelations last year of corruption at state enterprises, parastatals and local authorities where executives were raking in “obscene” salaries.

While Chiri’s report highlights that loss-making parastatals, parasites to the fiscus, are still failing on key deliverables and the observance good corporate governance resulting in huge financial loses, Treasury appears to have joined the fray. It made direct payments of about US$180 million on behalf of ministries, but most of the settlements were not supported by invoices and receipts from service providers. One does not need to be an accountant to surmise the financial implications thereof.

Due to weak internal control environments some ministries lost funds through fraudulent activities due to “failure to establish and maintain effective, efficient and transparent systems of financial and risk management and internal controls”.

It is thus no surprise parastatals are failing to honour statutory obligations, including paying taxes and pension funds, with their tax obligations at a time state revenues are dwindling amounting to US$450 million as at December 31, 2014.

Last year Finance minister Patrick Chinamasa bemoaned that key public entities continued to underperform, in the process incurring deficits thus remaining an albatross around the fiscus’ neck, but nothing appears to have been done to address what has become a self-fulfilling prophecy.

Accountability obviously poses a mortal threat to a select, well-connected elite ensconced in the ruling party’s patronage network, as their looting feeds on opacity and an egregious disregard of clearly laid down regulations and procedures.

It is little wonder Zimbabwe is ranked one of the most corrupt countries in the world. A survey commissioned by Transparency International and released this month revealed the majority of the population believes corruption has increased significantly over the past two years, with 68,5% of respondents feeling government was ineffective in fighting corruption.

Meanwhile, the country continues to count the high costs of institutionalised corruption and poor governance. The European Union has warned critical direct budgetary support would only be restored when Zimbabwe puts in place adequate systems to ensure accountability and transparency in the administration of public finances, including its procurement and tendering systems.

That day increasingly appears to be remote.

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