HomeAnalysisUnmasking the myth of corruption

Unmasking the myth of corruption

Lloyd Msipa Lawyer

THE first leader of independent Zimbabwe in 1980, Robert Mugabe, has passed on. May his soul rest in peace

His legacy has become a contentious topic of discussion among Zimbabweans, Africans and the world in general. It is refreshing to see that Africans have resisted the urge to agree with the Western narrative that labelled him “a ruthless dictator”.

His crime was one of omission. Failing to check his colleagues and later his wife who were accused of abusing state institutions for personal gain.

The Second Republic

President Emmerson Mnangagwa

We see the same omissions happening 12 months into the Second Republic led by President Emmerson Mnangagwa. He inherited Mugabe’s bureaucracy and, despite spirited pronouncements to reform it, he appears to be facing numerous challenges.

One of the biggest challenges is the fact that corruption has over the years entrenched itself in all key institutions and is now an accepted norm in Zimbabwe. Nothing is done efficiently without some “small” incentive. Corruption has become common practice in both government and the private sector.

So, how does he fire everyone who runs key institutions without disrupting the institutional memory? Can he inspire them to change? It is becoming increasingly clear that the Zimbabwe Anti-corruption commission (Zacc) is not the solution.

What is? Maybe the solution lies in using legislation to repatriate ill-gotten gains. Starting with oneself and one’s family members maybe? Pipe dream.

Hobson’s choice

… President Emmerson Mnangagwa

“You can have a white horse or a white horse … that’s Hobson’s choice!” Meaning you have no choice at all. The only option you have is the one that is being offered to you. There is no doubt Mnangagwa means well!

The question is: how does he destroy what he helped build? The truth is our incumbent is tainted by past collaborations and associations. He also vowed to protect Mugabe after assuming power, dead or alive. His hands are tied. He will never eradicate corruption amongst his peers.

He may arrest a few big fish as sacrificial lambs, but he will not dismantle the system that enables and fuels corruption. That is the tragedy.

How did corruption take root?

So, how did corruption take root in Zimbabwe? Why is it embedded in all state institutions including the Office of the President and Cabinet (OPC)?

What form does it take in the army? Mugabe was right! Sanctions were never to ensure compliance with human rights. Sanctions were and will always be a tool used by Western countries to threaten little countries that threaten Western interests.

In the case of Zimbabwe, the land reform programme and the indigenisation policy were an affront to Western interests. The West turned its back on Zimbabwe and used sanctions as a stick to beat us. Zimbabwe decided to look East to survive the sanctions.

Are the sanctions working? Yes, to impoverish the average Zimbabwean who is not connected to those who run state institutions and have access to the gravy train. Let us be honest.

Let’s tell it like it is. If we do a lifestyle audit of those who are on the targeted sanctions list. And do another audit on the companies and another on the Zimbabwean banks on the sanctions list, you will find that the people who man these institutions are the richest, most comfortable Zimbabweans who can fly business class to South Africa, China, India and Singapore and get state-of-the-art medical treatment when they get sick.

In their minds, there is no shame to it. They did not put Zimbabwe on sanctions. Why should they suffer? Instead of resting peacefully in the sun in Kutama,
Zvimba, Mugabe passed away peacefully in a top-class hospital in Singapore.

RBZ and sanctions busting

Massive printing of money by the Reserve Bank of Zimbabwe drove the economy into hyperinflation between 2007 and 2008.

The imposition of economic sanctions on Zimbabwe created a new environment that made it impossible for the country to trade normally with companies in other countries.

Any company that buys or sells or trades with Zimbabwean companies or individuals on the sanctions list is targeted and blacklisted by America,Britain and the European Union.

It is no secret that most international financial transactions transit through the American financial system. So, the Zimbabwe government devised methods tofly under the radar and find friendly countries willing to risk being blacklisted; willing to supply medical equipment, for example.

The Reserve Bank of Zimbabwe (RBZ) was literally handed a creative licence to find ways of keeping the country going.

The RBZ formed briefcase companies to finance off-book transactions to keep government programmes funded clandestinely: diamonds, gold, ivory, Zimbabwe Revenue Authority, Zimbabwe National Roads Administration.

All income-generating institutions were captured and all income was directed to RBZ operations. Initially, all this was well-meaning and innocent. It was aboutsurvival.

It was about national interest, until everybody started dipping their hands in the till. Not in the national interest, but for self-enrichment.

The system had now created loopholes, grey areas, as rules of corporate governance were disregarded in order to bust sanctions.

The tender system was turned on its head to combat sanctions.

Criminals connected to those in power stepped in the gap and made millions. For example, the Zimbabwe Electricity Supply Authority scandals.

The police stopped depositing fines with the Judicial Service Commission as is required by law and created its own ticketing system under former police commissioner-general Augustine Chihuri.

Hobson’s choice and the cartels

Can they arrest each other, knowing that they were doing it together, knowing why they did it, why they must continue to do it to get around sanctions? The army in the Democratic Republic of Congo was unable to feed its troops because of the sanctions.

In came John Bredenkamp, Nick Van Hoogstraten, all the Rhodies with the rule book on how to bust sanctions. “Let us assist you feed the army, we know how to bust sanctions.”

Money was deposited in banks in the British Isles. Those sent to do so on behalf of government started pocketing for themselves. They are now rich. But the cartels got back into the system.

Now we have cartel fuel, cartel government tenders, cartel OPC (Office of the President and Cabinet). Douglas Mapfumo, former principal director state residences in OPC, on remand for abuse of office, is a typical example of cartel OPC. Cartel Nssa (National Social Security Authority) used to fund government and party programmes.

Cartel Public Service Commission, the ghost workers’ network meant to reward those who support and campaign for the ruling party.

Everyone is dirty

The reality is each and every bigwig is tainted.

The army looted diamonds in Chiadzwa, the police stole fine money. Individuals in the judiciary stole money for court fees, the list is endless.

There are stories pertaining to how elephants were poisoned by VIP crooks who made illicit money from ivory.

So, the question that arises is: who is clean among them all? Once we accept that all are dirty, it begs the question: the ones being arrested, what is their crime?

Mnangagwa’s challenge

The tricky question for Mnangagwa’s government will be how to restore key state institutions to their original constitutional functions without destroying them.

How does he gracefully neutralise key allies, relatives and comrades who fuel the capture of these institutions?

The other critical question for Mnangagwa will be: if you remove the rotten eggs, who do you replace them with and by which date? 2023 is around the corner. Will this be strategically wise? The danger is that the rotten eggs will coalesce and remove him.

The bigwigs relegated to “Shake Shake building” (Zanu PF headquarters) are a restless lot. They have nothing to do. Rumour has it they have been holding meetings masterminding spanners in the works.

Is Zacc the solution?

Zacc will never give us the way forward. We need a policy on criminal prosecutions to prevent selective application of anti-corruption legislation. What sort of policy? Either we use timeframes: 2000 to 2005; 2006 to 2010; 2011 to 2017; 2018 onwards.

Or perhaps we can use estimated monetary value of the prejudice to the taxpayer: $100 000 and less; $500 000 and less; $1 million and less; $5 million; $10 million and so on. Let’s start with those who corruptly acquired assets after the new dispensation and move downwards, or vice versa.

Or we can use a third way. A reconciliatory way which acknowledges that this scourge arose through attempted sanctions busting. This approach acknowledges that most state institutions were roped into off-book practices to bust sanctions.

Which in essence is truthful in that it acknowledges that most people participated either directly or indirectly in corrupt practices. Or we tell them to simply surrender two thirds of corruptly acquired property or cash by a set time and get immunity from prosecution.

Mnangagwa tried this with his list of naming and shaming. He did not succeed. He tried getting civil servants to declare their interests in business ventures. He did not succeed.

So, maybe an amnesty? Immunity from prosecution? Carrot and stick. If there are no sacred cows, all Zacc has to do is check from number one downwards what assets or bank balances everyone has. Then serve them with High Court orders to explain how they acquired such wealth, and if they fail they lose the assets.
Money Laundering Bill (2019)

The Bill proposed by government giving Zacc, Zimra and the police powers to seek explanation from those who flaunt wealth without the means of acquiring it is a welcome development in the right direction.

However, I argue that more needs to be done. The legislation must be used to recover and repatriate assets acquired through abuse of taxpayers’ money instead of merely arresting accused persons for alleged corruption.

Throwing them behind bars is merely a burden on the taxpayer in our already overcrowded prisons. We can forfeit such unexplained wealth to the state. Put it back in our coffers, hopefully pay our debts and grow our economy.

International norms of criminal justice and jurisprudence are moving away from retributive justice. Justice is now rehabilitative.

Political and electoral reforms

Anti-riot police officers beat up a floored Mashumba (62) at the Harare Magistrates court last week.

On political and electoral reforms, the harsh reality is that the party with the majority in parliament will push those reforms that benefit their policies and support their government. That is democracy, the tyranny of the majority.

The opposition should accept the proposal of being officially appointed, recognised and appropriately remunerated in parliament, Westminster-style. That way they can effectively hold government to account and check its excesses. The issue of legitimacy is now water under the bridge. The Constitutional Court has already pronounced itself. Rehashing the issue undermines the highest court in the land. It is not going to happen.

Sadc, the African Union, Zimbabwe Electoral Support Network and domestic regional bodies endorsed the 2018 elections. There will be no Government of National Unity, no transitional authority, no back-door entry to the table. 2018 is not 2008. Let’s move on.

The opposition should focus on its role in parliament and force the pace of reforms. They should influence the legislative agenda to cause debate on the necessary changes.

The GNU did not result in robust electoral law reform agenda. What was its purpose? Whose interests did it serve? Certainly not the interests of ordinary Zimbabweans.

Way forward for Zim

Zimbabwe is a constitutional democracy. Strengthening the institutions set up by the constitution will strengthen our democracy. How? Accountability.

How do we hold institutions to account? In parliament, not on the streets. Not on social media and not in the court of public opinion.

As Zimbabweans, we need to disabuse ourselves of the notion that Europe, America and Britain are our saviours. We need to stop outsourcing the solutions to our problems to outsiders.

Let’s tell each the truth as Zimbabweans, to build Zimbabwe for ourselves. Our future generations. It’s a year since our last election.

The next election is looming. Are we going to make noise until it is upon us? The date is entrenched in the constitution.

Only an earthquake can stop an election.

The question that should exercise our minds is: are we prepared to do what is necessary to break the cycle of going into an election on a perceived uneven playing field? What should we be doing to make the playing field fair? Protests and demonstrations can only take us so far.

Dr Martin Luther King had a dream. He followed in the footsteps of Mahatma Ghandi. Passive resistance. Civil disobedience.

Whilst each country is unique and we accept that this is a different era, violence is not the answer. Leaders must preach peace. Peaceful resolutions must be advocated for. Peaceful and reconciliatory language must be used. Lead by example, from the front.

If Nelson Mandela could forgive after 27 years on Robben Island. If our own hero Mugabe could embrace his tortures and our oppressors in 1980 and extend the hand of reconciliation. If these icons could embrace the spirit of togetherness, of patriotism, who are we to deliberately cause chaos and mayhem to fan the flames of poverty in our great nation just to gain power or to continue the primitive accumulation of wealth?

Fellow Zimbabweans, let us wake up. Ours is a land of milk and honey. We have the land. May our icon Robert Gabriel Mugabe rest in peace in the bosom of our ancestors and in the arms of our Maker.

We have minerals. We have vast human resources. What we lack is patriotism. We can and must resuscitate the economy. It is the only way to regain our dignity and pride. It is the only way to control our destiny.

Let us be strong. Just a little bit longer. Let us bury our icon Mugabe and remember the good lessons that he taught us. Yes, he made mistakes. He was human. But he taught us to fight. To be principled. Let us fight for our country. United we stand. We are the house of stone! Zimbabwe!

Msipa is a London-based Zimbabwean corporate and international law expert, investment advisor and commentator on African politics. — info@lloydmsipa.com

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