A RECENT report by Transparency International Zimbabwe (TIZ) showing the country is losing a staggering US$1,8 billion annually to corruption is a damning indictment on President Emmerson Mnangagwa’s commitment to fighting graft.
The startling revelations, contained in two TIZ reports titled Gendered Corruption Barometer and Corruption Impact Analysis on Tax Administration and Revenue Mobilisation, fly in the face of Mnangagwa’s sustained but hollow rhetoric that his administration is committed to the curtailment of graft, among a raft of sweeping reforms he has pledged to roll out.
Zimbabwe was ranked number 158 out of 180 countries last year on the Corruption Perceptions Index (CPI), reaffirming criticism against Mnangagwa that his fight against graft is much ado about nothing. In 2018, Zimbabwe, battling to revive a floundering economy haemorrhaging from rampant corruption and disastrous policies, ranked 160 out of 280 countries.
The Corruption Perceptions Index, published annually by Transparency International since 1995, gauges the level of public sector graft in a number of countries across the globe.
Corruption crusaders across Africa —which is blighted by rampant graft — have bemoaned the lack of zeal by the continent’s political leadership to curtail sleaze. In many cases, including in Zimbabwe, the political and military elite, as well as family members, individuals and companies connected to them, are responsible for the majority of high level cases of corruption.
Addressing a conference in Nigeria in 2015, eminent Kenyan scholar Otieno Lumumba lifted the veil on Africa’s reticence to combat graft, noting that: “One of the most dangerous things in Africa today is to declare that you are going to fight corruption. Corruption is a big industry”.
In the case of Zimbabwe, Stephen Chan, a professor of world politics at the University of London, suggests that Mnangagwa’s regime, which first rose to power in 2017 through a military coup, has kept the alliance of its securocratic benefactors intact by creating a complex web of corruption which acts as their feeding trough.
“This is a perceptions index (Corruption Perception Index), so it is not supported by hard evidence. However, international perception is very much that Zimbabwe is not serious about halting or even reducing corruption. It is government now run by oligarchs and securocrats, and the perception is that it is corruption that keeps this alliance together,” Chan argued.
What lends credence to Chan’s argument is that even during the 37-year rule of former president Robert Mugabe, the military has featured prominently in opaque mining deals forged in partnership with dodgy investors following the discovery of a lucrative diamond treasure trove in Manicaland in 2000. Before the turn of the millennium, the military also came under the spotlight for its role in plundering the diamond resources of the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) when Zimbabwe intervened to save Laurent Kabila’s government.
Chan is not alone in his scathing criticism against Mnangagwa’s lethargic approach to tackling corruption. International Crisis Group senior consultant Piers Pigou also contends that corruption is rife in Zimbabwe, largely as a result of government’s tacit support for the vice, perpetuated by the political elite.
He highlights that Zimbabwe’s re-engagement agenda, seen as key towards unlocking fresh investment lines desperately needed to mend the country’s battered economy, will only yield dividends if government curtails sleaze.
“This is a perception index, and while such is often based on direct and indirect experience, it is not a scientific reflection of corruption realities. Nevertheless, it reflects the low levels of trust Zimbabweans have towards public and private actors, and the government in general.
“This is echoed in important parts of the international community, and remains a primary challenge for Mnangagwa’s re-engagement strategy.”
Yet Pigou acknowledges the positive strides Mnangagwa has taken to curtail corruption, notably revising the composition of the Zimbabwe Anti-Corruption Commission (Zacc), as well as setting up dedicated anti-graft courts. To its credit, Zacc chairperson Justice Loice Matanda-Moyo has expressed frustration at the dramatic collapse of corruption cases implicating high-ranking officials.
“The government has taken some decisive actions, but progress will be contingent on the competence and capacity of the institutions pursuing these matters.
President Mnangagwa replaced Zacc and established a special investigative unit in his office and anti- corruption courts,” Pigou said.
“It remains moot the extent to which the anti-corruption infrastructure has adequate resourcing, real independence and a non-partisan strategic agenda.”
Critics further contend that Mnangagwa can rejuvenate his drive against corruption by investigating allegations of rampant corruption shrouding murky diamond operations in Chiadzwa and the controversial Command Agriculture programme.
During Mugabe’s twilight years in power, the then president shockingly revealed that Zimbabwe had been prejudiced US$15 billion through an intricate tax evasion scheme by companies extracting gems in the eastern province.
But to show Mnangagwa’s lack of seriousness, a parliamentary probe into how billions of dollars allocated to Command agriculture were spent flopped after Zanu PF legislators sabotaged the investigation, purportedly because they do not recognise the chairperson of the Public Accounts Committee, Tendai Biti, whose party, the MDC, does not accept Mnangagwa as the legitimate head of state and government.
Coupled with that, Mnangagwa is yet to take decisive action following disclosures by Auditor-General (AG) Mildred Chiri in her 2019 public audit report showing rampant corruption and mismanagement at state enterprises, prejudicing Zimbabwe of billions of dollars.
Pigou argued: “Until there is a deeper insight into what is being pursued and what is not, for example Marange diamonds and Command Agriculture, negative perceptions will remain. This could be addressed if the government and relevant institutions felt it important to do so. As we have seen in the past, the government and independent institutions have not responded to such negative indicators.”
Critics have also explored the nexus between corruption and governance, arguing that graft generally thrives in countries with unstable governments. Similarly, Mnangagwa’s administration has been implored by various quarters to strengthen state institutions under the reform agenda.
However, Mnangagwa, judging by the lowly position Zimbabwe occupies on the Corruption Perceptions Index (2019), appears to lack the appetite to combat graft.
Tackling graft boldly will improve Zimbabwe’s battered investment status.