Graft: Ex-convicts, drugs dealers live it up while economy bleeds

THAT the usually diplomatic International Monetary Fund (IMF) has raised a red flag and bluntly told Zimbabwe to take a serious stand on corruption, including urgent economic reforms, shows how rampant graft has become in the country which is locked in a serious economic quagmire.

By Elias Mambo

President Robert Mugabe (left) with ex-convict and controversial businessman Wicknell Chivayo.
President Robert Mugabe (left) with ex-convict and controversial businessman Wicknell Chivayo.

Corruption has become so endemic that everyday the media is awash with news of how state-owned enterprises have become conduits through which large amounts of funds are siphoned out for personal gain. And as this happens, the executive has not done anything to bring perpetrators to book.

Of late the country has been rocked by scandals at the Zimbabwe Electricity Supply Authority where tenders worth close to US$600 million were awarded to companies owned by ex-convicts and drug traffickers. NetOne, the government-owned mobile service provider, has also lost millions through graft.

A fortnight ago, the Zimbabwe Revenue Authority board sent its commissioner-general Gershem Pasi and five executive managers on forced leave as investigations into an alleged vehicle importation scandal commenced.

Hardly a day passes by without Air Zimbabwe, Zimbabwe National Roads Authority, the Grain Marketing Board, Civil Aviation Authority of Zimbabwe, Central Mechanical Equipment Department and other parastatals being brought into the spotlight over issues related to graft.

As the scourge persists, Zimbabweans are longing for the day President Robert Mugabe will fire or order the arrest of corrupt officials to show government’s willingness and ability to stop the cancer destroying Zimbabwe’s economy.

The IMF remarks came at a time Core Mining and Mineral Resources founder, Lovemore Kurotwi, who recently launched a book, emphasised how corruption has hindered the country’s economic growth, complained over government inaction.

In 2012 Kurotwi was dragged to court after being accused of misrepresenting to government that the creation of a joint venture between Marange and Core Mining would result in an investment of US$2 billion.

During trial, Kurotwi said he told Mugabe that former Mines minister Obert Mpofu allegedly demanded a US$10 million kickback from him.
In his book, The Rise and Fall of Chiadzwa: My Personal Experience, Kurotwi states that close to US$150 million worth of diamonds and US$10 million in cash were seized by Mpofu and never recovered.

He was, however, arrested on spurious charges while Mpofu went scot-free.

Despite publicly promising to act against corruption, Mugabe and top government officials have time and again demonstrated they are unwilling or unable to act against corrupt individuals as failure to act on Kurotwi’s allegations suggests.

In March 2014, a fuming Mugabe disclosed that a cabinet minister and a female Member of Parliament had demanded a US$120 000 bribe from a prospective investor. He warned that the arrest of senior officials over graft allegations was imminent.

No arrests were made.

In September 2013, Mugabe sensationally accused former Zimbabwe Mining Development Corporation chairman Goodwills Masimirembwa of demanding and receiving a US$6 million bribe from a Ghanaian businessman who had invested in the Chiadzwa diamond fields. It was the first time Mugabe mentioned a public official by name.

While the nation was expecting a swift move by Mugabe to curb corruption, the president made an about-turn and instead exonerated Masimirembwa.

In 2012, at the Zanu PF conference in Gweru, a seemingly embarrassed but angry Mugabe disclosed that former South African president Thabo Mbeki had informed him of how some Zimbabwean cabinet ministers were frustrating a US$1 billion investment by South African businesspeople by demanding a US$10 million bribe.

No action was taken despite the public outburst. The graft has extended its tentacles to non-governmental organisations, political parties, the private sector as well as judiciary.

University of Zimbabwe political science lecturer Eldred Masunungure said Mugabe had no will to fight corruption and was merely making pronouncements to pacify the restive public.

“He is fully aware that the issue of corruption has caught the imagination of the nation and he has to appear to share the public concern. The emphasis is on appearance, the concern is symbolic, but it lacks substance because he has no desire and political will to follow through,” he said.

The setting up of Zimbabwe Anti-Corruption Commission (Zaac) by government in 2005 initially appeared to be a bold step towards clamping down on the vice. Zacc has the mandate to investigate corruption cases.

However, despite being in existence for a decade, the organisation has proved to be a toothless bulldog in so far as fighting corruption is concerned as it is underfunded and understaffed.

Perhaps the obvious proof that government is not committed to fighting corruption was when senior Zacc officials were persecuted for attempting to investigate Mpofu, then Indigenisation minister Saviour Kasukuwere and former Transport minister Nicholas Goche in 2013. It did not help either that Zacc officials were also not clean themselves, making it easy for government officials to persecute them.

Transparency International Zimbabwe chairperson Loughty Dube said the executive has let down the nation by failing to tackle corruption.

“Show me one top official who has been arrested for that then we will say the executive is now ready to combat corruption,” he said.