Externalisation saga: Badly executed plan

The list released by President Emmerson this week, which contained the names of companies and individuals accused of “externalising” money from Zimbabwe, generated a lot of chatter but, quite predictably, there was more heat than light in the whole fiasco.

Zimind Comment

In the first place, “externalisation” as a crime does not exist in our laws. On that account alone, the legality of the whole exercise is rendered questionable.

According to the president’s list, hundreds of companies and individuals have failed to bring back to Zimbabwe US$827 million stashed offshore after the expiry of an amnesty.

While there is nothing wrong with the idea of a naming-and-shaming approach to fighting corruption, it is our considered view that there is no room for cheap populism in matters of serious public policy. At all times, public officials must be guided by the law. Arbitrary actions, knee-jerk reactions, political grandstanding and smoke-and-mirrors manoeuvres give a bad name to the fight to combat corruption.

Rushing to name and shame people on the basis of sloppy and unverified information — a shoddy job — has created a situation where people and corporate entities are recklessly defamed and subjected to untold reputational damage.

Government should have put together a team of financial and legal experts, with clear terms of reference, to carefully study these financial flows before a decision was made to name and shame anyone.

While the idea of stemming illicit financial flows is commendable, the unintended consequences of going about it in a desultory manner is that the whole effort comes across as an ill-conceived, populist and opportunistic campaign.

Before going public with the names, the authorities should have privately conferred with these companies and individuals to afford them a chance to explain themselves — a principle of natural justice.

Put simply, the idea, though good, was badly executed. Already, there are indications that some of the companies on the list closed shop a long time ago. Other companies are not even registered.

According to the United Nations Economic Commission for Africa, the continent loses as much as US$50 billion in illicit financial flows every year.

“This is approximately double the official development assistance that Africa receives and, indeed, the estimate may well be short of reality as accurate data does not exist for all transactions and for all African countries,” says the commission.

Illicit financial flows impede economic development in various ways. Corruption and tax evasion erode the economic base, making it difficult for a government to mobilise money to fund public health, education, infrastructure and other vital amenities and services.

There is reason to believe that funds smuggled across borders are the proceeds of the plunder of precious minerals, drug dealing and even human trafficking.

To enhance the fight on illicit financial flows, Mnangagwa should now ensure that these crimes are tackled in a legal, coherent and efficient manner — without fear or favour — and in a way that does not harm innocent victims and rattle investor confidence.

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