Bolder corruption combat needed

ONE of the current buzzwords, apart from “new dispensation” and “Zimbabwe is open for business”, yet to be convincingly defined in form and content, is “corruption”.

Editor’s Memo,Dumisani Muleya
dmuleya@zimind.co.zw

President Emmerson Mnangagwa and his administration’s senior officials have been waxing lyrical about fighting corruption, and its negative economic and social impact in Zimbabwe.

Since coming through a military coup last November, Mnangagwa has been pushing a highly enthusiastic and effusive narrative about combating corruption.

However, between nothing and little has so far been done to arrest rampant graft.

Of course, there has been a few cases of arrests here and there, and cancellation of corrupt deals, but the fact remains only small fish in a bigger pond teeming with corrupt sharks are targeted. Going after flies while leaving tigers to go with impunity in the process can only undermine government’s credibility, and inevitably invite cynicism.

When Chinese President Xi Jinping came to power in 2013, he went on a “tiger hunt” mission to flush out corrupt powerful party and government officials.

The scale on which senior officials, vice-ministerial rank and above, and top military commanders were being targeted was unprecedented in the history of communist China.

One of China’s top generals in charge of the world’s biggest military, former chief of general staff General Fang Fenghui, was prosecuted for bribery. General Zhang Yang, former head of the powerful Central Military Commission’s political work department, committed suicide due to pressure from the crackdown.

Xi also broke the unwritten rule that serving and former members of the Politburo Standing Committee were exempt from criminal investigation when he oversaw the expulsion from the party of Zhou Yongkang, a former member of the all-powerful committee who oversaw China’s security, intelligence and judicial systems. Zhou is now serving a life sentence for corruption.

This is not what is happening in Zimbabwe. While it is true that Mnangagwa is constrained by lack of an electoral mandate and indeed the coming elections, he should already be sending clear signals he will fight corruption without fear or favour.

Currently there are so many cases of corruption in the corridors of power involving senior officials in Mnangagwa’s government, some in his office, and various tenders, for instance Zesa deals, which need to be dealt with.

Mnangagwa’s political will, sincerity and seriousness to tackle corruption will be measured by its actions around such issues. It will not be measured by fighting political opponents or witch-hunting. Politicising fighting corruption in partisan terms of who gets arrested or not is the quickest way of neutralising or discrediting the campaign.

As International Monetary Fund managing director Christine Largade said a few days ago, in a paper titled Shining a Bright Light into the Dark Corners of Weak Governance and Corruption, Mnangagwa needs to hold the torch and shine the light in the dark corners of his government.

The paper showed poor governance and high levels of corruption are associated with significantly lower economic growth, investment, FDI and tax revenues, as well as higher inequality and lower inclusive growth.

Anti-corruption strategies require broader regulatory and institutional reforms. You cannot fight corruption using a corrupt government bureaucracy, instruments and its enforcers. You need to clean up the system first and then launch an intensive war on corruption.

Naturally, those in charge of the apparatus must also not be corrupt. What really weakens this government’s anti-corruption campaign is corrupt leaders themselves in charge.

The costs of corruption on economic growth and development are known. We all know that entrenched corruption is economically damaging.

There is also the supply side of corruption. It is a basic truism that — to adapt a phrase from Milton Friedman — corruption is always and everywhere a two-sided phenomenon, as Largade observed. There is always a giver and taker. That is the holistic approach needed to fight corruption, not half measures and grandstanding political rhetoric.