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When thieves capture the state

In his highly acclaimed autobiography Very Brave or Very Foolish? — Memoirs of an African Democrat, the late president of Botswana, Quett Ketumile Masire, who was laid to rest last week, makes a telling observation.

Candid Comment,Brezhnev malaba

Masire, clearly exasperated by President Robert Mugabe’s less-than-satisfactory handling of Zimbabwe’s trade relations with Botswana which made life needlessly difficult for Gaborone, remarks that: “It was never clear how much of our problems with Zimbabwe was their bad management, and how much was intentional.”

I am reminded of Masire’s words by Auditor-General Mildred Chiri’s latest report which has revealed massive, industrial-scale looting by officials in Mugabe’s government. It has become difficult to figure out whether the plunder of public funds is a mere case of bad governance or a well-designed policy of kleptocracy, in other words “rule by thieves”.

Treasury has failed to account for US$570 million disbursed to faceless characters in the form of loans. When you consider that Zimbabwe’s entire national budget is US$4 billion, describing this scale and magnitude of malfeasance as bad governance and mismanagement is a gross understatement. It has gone beyond the realm of mismanagement; it is now organised crime.

Last week, we exclusively reported that senior bureaucrats and the military top brass have been lavished with personal loans amounting to US$11 million. This comes at a time the broke government is failing to supply public hospitals with essential medicines.

The World Bank says some public institutions have not been audited since 1980. Can you wrap your brain around that?

Even by Zimbabwe’s shambolic standards, this level of financial indiscipline is astonishing.

Government departments, including the police and central registry, are retaining funds collected from the public instead of remitting the money to Treasury. Through this patently unconstitutional diversion of public funds, more than US$1 billion is unaccounted for every year.

The government operates 64 statutory and retention funds. A staggering 31 of these funds have not submitted their accounts for audit this year. As a result, between US$700 million and US$1 billion will not be accounted for.

There is no doubt that the Zimbabwean state has morphed into a predatory criminal enterprise controlled by a network of thieves who loot public resources, divert taxpayer funds and deploy lethal force against anyone who stands in their path.

But we have reached a stage where continuously blaming the government for this scandalous state of affairs is increasingly becoming unhelpful.

My question is: what are the ordinary citizens doing about this institutionalised looting? Are Zimbabweans folding their arms, sitting back and waiting for a visitor from planet Mars to come and confront this criminality on their behalf?

Our powerful rulers lack the moral credibility, organisational acumen and technocratic gravitas to stem the naked plunder of public funds, let alone spearhead socio-economic progress. And we must stop blaming them alone; every citizen is complicit.

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