“Less rhetoric, more action”

Transparency International Zimbabwe (TIZ) last week published the results of the 2018 Corruption Perception Index (CPI). Zimbabwe’s score on the CPI has remained on 22, the same as in 2017 (below the regional average for sub-Saharan Africa which is 32).

Whilst the new political administration that came into power in November 2017 has embarked on an anti-corruption agenda which saw the introduction of a number of policy and institutional frameworks designed to fight corruption, the sad reality is that those measures have not yielded much results and Zimbabwe remains one of the most corrupt countries in the world.

Business reporter Melody Chikono (MC) spoke to TIZ executive director Muchaneta Mundopa (MM) to gain insight into the scourge of corruption.

MC: What is your comment on the latest Corruption Perception Index findings?

MM: On Tuesday the 29th of January, the results of the 2018 CPI were released. The CPI scores 180 countries and territories by their perceived levels of public sector corruption, according to experts and businesspeople. A country/territory’s score indicates the perceived level of public sector corruption on a scale of 0-100, where 0 means that a country is perceived as highly corrupt and a 100 means that a country is perceived as very clean. It is important to note that the ranking is of little relevance. What is of importance is the score. A country’s rank indicates its position relative to the other countries/territories included in the index. Ranks can change merely if the number of countries included in the index changes. Thus, Zimbabwe being ranked 160 is of no particular relevance. Reason why there was a shift from 154 to 160 is because a number of countries were tied on certain positions, for example you will note that after Bangladesh, Central African Republic and Uganda (three countries ranked 149), we have 5 other countries ranked 152. This explains why Zimbabwe’s ranking pushed to 160 from 157 in 2017. For 2018, Zimbabwe’s score was 22, same score as two previous years 2016 and 2017.

MC: Do you think the current administration is sincere about the fight against corruption?

MM: Since the coming into office by President Mnangagwa in November 2017, the talk has been zero tolerance to corruption. To that end, various policy and institutional frameworks have been put in place to try and curb corruption, such as the creation of the specialised anti-corruption courts, the anti-corruption unit within the Zimbabwe Republic Police, and the intent by senior public officials to declare their assets, to mention but a few. Whilst all these initiatives exhibit some form of political will, they remain underutilised or not fully operational/implemented. As TIZ, we have always emphasised on the need for action, implementation and reporting back (AIR) if we are to win the fight against corruption in Zimbabwe. The President has taken some initiatives in the right direction with regards to action, however, we are still lagging behind when it comes to implementation and reporting back on the successes and failures of the initiatives undertaken so far. An example would be the intent by senior public officials to declare their assets. All we heard was the proclamation, but one year later no feedback has been proffered as to how many senior public officials declared their assets nor was the information made public.

Corruption in Zimbabwe is systemic and well-entrenched. What the President needs is a clear-cut policy that outlines his plan to address the problem as well as a tough stance on officials implicated in corrupt activities. The lack of a Whistleblower Protection Act poses a threat to curbing corruption in Zimbabwe. Reports of the government working on a Whistleblower’s Protection Act have been there since 2014 and five years later the country is still yet to finalise on the Act. This raises concerns over the government’s stance in fighting corruption. Citizens generally fear reporting and exposing high-level corruption and the lack of this Act makes it worse.

From TIZ’s point of view, Zimbabwe needs a National Anti-Corruption Strategy which will touch on the protection of whistleblowers, outline the key priority sectors/ areas that need close monitoring for corruption (e.g. the mining sector), the role of various actors in contributing to a corruption-free Zimbabwe as well as a monitoring framework that monitors the strides taken in the fight against corruption. Monitoring and analysis of implementation are vital functions, which are required for the success of anti-corruption policy and implementation measures. A national anti-corruption strategy will steer the anti-corruption agenda in Zimbabwe from being more reactional and management of corruption to putting more emphasis on preventative measures. At the moment we feel the fight against corruption is piecemeal and haphazard.

Political will in the fight against corruption should go beyond rhetoric. That signals commitment to international investors and donors while avoiding tough reforms that are needed to improve transparency and accountability.

MC: How best do you think the country’s corruption institutions should be structured?

MM: Firstly, we as a country need to look beyond the traditional institutions that are mandated to fight corruption, such as the police, Zimbabwe Anti-Corruption Commission (Zacc) etc. We need to recognise more actors as being important in the fight against corruption. For example, we need to give the Auditor-General the power to cause those found wanting to be prosecuted. Year in and year out the Auditor-General raises issues of mismanagement of public finances but nothing is done.
Parliament in pursuit of its oversight and representative roles should continue to demand explanations of public finance management and issues raised by the Auditor-General from ministries, state enterprises and parastatals, and local authorities to ensure that the public is well informed of how funds are being expended within government. We also need to recognise the role of the media in exposing corruption.

Borrowing from international best practice, I would say for anti-corruption institutions or bodies to operate effectively and efficiently there are certain features that they must embody. And these range from mandate and functions; level of specialisation; independence, autonomy and accountability; adequate material resources, specialised and trained staff; adequate powers; co-operation with the civil society and the private sector; inter-agency co-operation. All these facets must apply to institutions mandated to fight corruption, that is the police, the National Prosecuting Authority and the Zacc.

When it comes to the Zimbabwe Anti-Corruption Commission, TIZ is of the view that whilst one of its mandate is to investigate and expose corruption, it must be capacitated or its powers must be extended to include arrest, search and seizure, access to financial information and confiscation of assets. One criticism levelled against Zacc over the years has been the commission’s lack of independent powers to arrest. As it is now, the commission has to rely on the police to effect arrests.

MC: Do you think the anti-corruption unit should be placed within the Office of the President?

MM: No. It brings into question its independence and credibility. The Special Anti-Corruption Unit erodes the independence of the National Prosecuting Authority, whose independence is guaranteed in terms of the constitution which entrenches independence of the Prosecutor-General who heads the National Prosecuting Authority (section 259(1) and 260 of the constitution) and provides that the Prosecutor-General is not subject to the direction and control of anyone, who must exercise their function impartially, without fear or favour, prejudice or bias. This also implies that no prosecutor should be answerable to the President or subject to his control or direction in the performance of his or her duties. Coincidentally, the unit which was established early last year has to date not resulted in meaningful (in terms of numbers) prosecutions which brings to mind whether it was necessary to have this unit in the first place as opposed to capacitating the National Prosecuting Authority to be able to effectively deal with corruption cases.

MC: How do you see Zimbabwe in the next five years if its approach towards corruption does not change?

MM: Should we continue in this path, Zimbabwe will not be able to meet the 2030 upper middle-income agenda. This agenda requires financial support, (domestic) investment and foreign direct investment, revenue mobilisation and fiscal consolidation. Corruption threatens all that. People will be hesitant to invest in Zimbabwe as studies have shown that corruption increases the risk of doing business by 5% to10%.

MM: Looking at the private and public sectors, where do you think corruption is more prevalent? What do you think are the drivers?

MC: Corruption exists in both the public and private sectors. I would say in the public sector it’s during the tendering stage in public procurement (where at least 50% of the gross domestic product goes to). In the private sector corruption is more common with the small to medium enterprises when one has to pay bribes or kickbacks if one wants to win public and private sector tenders. In Zimbabwe, you would note that grand corruption in the public sector often dominates the headlines and private sector corruption is often overlooked but there are a lot of corruption risks involved in the private sector such as conflict of interests etc. The impunity that has been afforded those implicated in grand corruption scandals has motivated massive opportunities for private corruption. The private enterprises are mostly owned by politically exposed persons.

The bureaucracy surrounding the ease of doing business in Zimbabwe also contributes to corruption. There is therefore need to fast-track the ease of doing business reforms. Issues such as difficulties in obtaining licences may lead to lack of transparency which may result in corruption.

MC: Do you think the recent disbanding of Zacc will strengthen the fight on corruption?

MM: TIZ is of the view that the Anti-Corruption Commission is an important accountability mechanism. However, its track record has not been great in that it has failed to reduce corruption, which is probably why it was disbanded. What is important now, with the search for new commissioners underway is making sure that the people appointed commissioners are people with high standards of integrity. Previously we have had commissioners of Zacc being involved in corruption scandals, which resulted in the citizens losing faith in the commission. Public confidence in the commission’s ability to fight corruption is important. Further, if the commission is to be effective in the fight against corruption, there has to be a level of accountability and political will to see the commission succeed. Operational independence is key in this regard.

The commission must be allowed full freedom to discharge its legal mandate impartially, without interference from any quarters. The commission must be situated in a comprehensive national anti-corruption strategy supported by effective and complementary public bodies such as the judiciary, regulatory bodies etc. Lastly, there must be an independent oversight mechanism to monitor Zacc’ss functions and practices: for example, a parliamentary oversight committee and/or a committee comprising a cross-section of professional groups and civil society.

MC: In the face of these deep-seated corruption challenges, approximately how much do you think Zimbabwe is losing?

MM: The Global Competitiveness Report (2016-2017 Edition) identified corruption as the third most problematic factor for doing business in Zimbabwe, going against the ‘Zimbabwe is Open for Business’ mantra. Zimbabwe keeps on losing revenue through petty corruption which is supposed to go into the national fiscus as well as through grand corruption, illicit financial flows and through public procurement. In 2018, when the government spoke of the funds that were externalised, he stated that he believed at least US$1,4 billion had been illegally externalised by corporates and individuals. There has been talks of ghost workers in the public sector. So hypothetically if there are 3 000 ghost workers paid an average of $450 per month, the nation could be prejudiced of $1 350 000 per month. This gives an indication of how much we are losing to corruption annually.