THE failure by President Emmerson Mnangagwa’s government to tackle high-level corruption—which has contributed immensely to economic decay—has raised serious questions about his sincerity to fight the scourge.
By Nyasha Chingono
In his inaugural speech in November 2017 after seizing power in a military coup that toppled long-time leader Robert Mugabe, Mnangagwa depicted himself as a pragmatic leader who was ready to undo nearly four decades of corruption that has contributed to the country’s economic collapse.
“As we focus on recovering our economy, we must shed misbehaviours and acts of indiscipline which have characterised the past. Acts of corruption must stop forthwith. On these ideals, my administration declares full commitment, warning that grief awaits those who depart from the path of virtue and clean business,” Mnangagwa said.
Mnangagwa promised “swift justice” for economic saboteurs and swore to uphold high moral standards.
This he said to wide adulation from praise singers, while critics were also willing to give him a chance to prove that he was taking a different path from his long-time mentor, former president Robert Mugabe, who presided over decades of corruption.
Although Auditor-General Mildred Chiri has often been commended for unearthing corruption in parastatals, municipalities and state-affiliated companies, her reports have over the years gathered dust as no action has been taken.
A recent audit by Ralph Bomment Greencare and Reynolds exposed Mines minister Winston Chitando’s involvement in shady business dealings where he allegedly presided over the misuse of a US$115,5 million loan at troubled coal-mining giant, Hwange Colliery Company Limited.
The forensic audit also uncovers corporate governance failures, massive fraud and tax evasion at the partly state-owned company and implicates former Hwange managing director Thomas Makore and senior executives in financial irregularities.
Another audit also exposes massive corruption, tax evasion and corporate governance rot at the Zimbabwe National Road Administration (Zinara), where the cash-rich road funder lost millions of dollars through wanton financial waste and unsubstantiated payments to board members and senior company officials.
Police say they are currently investigating cases of corruption at Zinara, although it is yet to be seen if the real fat cats that have benefitted from sleaze there will be brought to account.
Seventeen months after Mnangagwa took the oath of office, no meaningful arrests or convictions have taken place except those perceived to be the President’s political rivals.
High-profile corruption cases in the Mnangagwa era include former Information Communication Technology minister Supa Mandiwanzira, who was last week cleared by the High Court of all the criminal abuse charges he was facing.
Former Energy minister Samuel Undenge, who had been jailed for four years for prejudicing the Zimbabwe Power Company (ZPC) of US$12 000 after he issued a tender irregularly, was freed on US$1000 bail pending appeal last year after appealing against his conviction and sentence by the Harare Magistrates Court. Undenge was part of the G40 faction.
Stephen Chan, a professor of World Politics at the University of London, said prosecutions in Zimbabwe were aimed at eliminating political foes and had failed to stem corruption in the southern African nation.
“In Zimbabwe, many of the corrupt oligarchs are closely linked with senior government figures. No meaningful prosecutions will be brought against allies in good standing. It will be like China, where prosecutions occur to get rid of political threats or enemies or as an act of political vengeance. Zimbabwe, however, is not like Nigeria. There is much corruption in Nigeria, but that country has a problematic but thriving economic and export sector. Zimbabwe has corruption while it begs others for money, and has nothing to give in exchange,” Chan said.
Former Finance Minister Tendai Biti, who heads the parliamentary portfolio committee on Public Finance, said Mnangagwa’s anti-corruption rhetoric was a farce while his treatment of high-level corruption cases flies in the face of his “open for business mantra”.
“Mnangagwa’s legacy is that of corruption. He has been sitting on the Zinara report for years; surely he cannot be a champion in the fight against corruption. Mnangagwa is the centre of corruption, you can’t trust a mosquito to cure malaria,” Biti told the Independent this week.
Biti claimed that the government had attempted to gag parliament’s probe into Zinara.
“I am glad that our committee has teeth now but they are trying to muzzle parliament probe into Zinara. We are however going to stick to our mandate, so much work needs to be done,” Biti said.
Zimbabwe scored 22 points out of 100 on the 2018 Corruption Perceptions Index reported by Transparency International. Corruption Index in Zimbabwe averaged 24,81 points from 1998 until 2018, reaching an all-time high of 42 points in 1998 and a record low of 18 points in 2008.
The Corruption Perceptions Index ranks countries and territories based on how corrupt their public sector is perceived to be. Public sector corruption has spiked over the years.
Economist John Robertson said government corruption was bleeding the country while thorough audit systems should be employed to stem graft in public entities.
He said Mnangagwa should justify all government expenditures through accounting audits.
“Government corruption is bleeding the country and that needs urgent attention. The President should make sure that all expenses are justified and accounted for so that we know what is going on,” Robertson said.
“The problem is that corruption has become part of the culture where people feel entitled. They don’t call it corruption anymore.”
In January Mnangagwa moved to disband the Zimbabwe Anti-Corruption Commission which was accused of being corrupt and meddling in Zanu PF internal affairs. The International Crisis Group’s senior consultant for Southern Africa, Piers Pigou, said government should walk the talk on corruption if the international community is to fully re-engage with the southern African nation.
“Unless the state is seen to be more seriously walking its talk on this, certainly questions will be raised in the international community, but more importantly domestically as well,” Pigou said.