Selective application of the law is sabotage

BREZH MALABA

THE Money Laundering and Proceeds of Crime Amendment Act has come into operation.Under this law, the Zimbabwe Revenue Authority and the National Prosecuting Authority can apply to the High Court for an “Unexplained Wealth Order” against anyone thought to have unlawfully acquired property worth more than US$100 000.

But will it work? I posed this question on my Twitter handle (@BrezhMalaba) this week and the responses were fascinating. Some said the Unexplained Wealth Orders would be applied selectively to target the perceived opponents of the ruling elite. Others defended the law, arguing that it would be a crucial weapon in the war on corruption. Interestingly, others said there is no war on corruption to talk about in the first place.

I was not surprised by the Manichean responses; Zimbabwe is a deeply polarised society. In a country where “lawfare” has been deployed to harass, wear down, demoralise, paralyse and bankrupt perceived enemies, there is nothing shocking about the heightened sense of suspicion that pervades the public sentiment.

In its simplest form, an Unexplained Wealth Order is issued by a court of law to compel individuals to reveal the source of their assets. Failure to convincingly explain how the property was acquired leads to forfeiture. The entire process is anchored on the principle of “reverse onus” — whereby the burden of proof is shifted onto the specified individual. When applied fairly and without fear or favour, Unexplained Wealth Orders can be a powerful tool for confiscating the proceeds of crime. Criminals have been known to use a complex web of tactics to launder illicit money.

In Zimbabwe’s case, it remains to be seen whether the Unexplained Wealth Order approach will be effective in fighting illicit financial flows. Corruption has destroyed the economy, plunging the nation into untold poverty and turmoil.

Recently, the Zimbabwe Anti-Corruption Commission revealed it was tracing offshore assets worth US$7 billion suspected to be the proceeds of crime. Most of the mansions, luxury cars and hefty bank accounts are domiciled in South Africa, Dubai and the Far East.

An important point has to be emphasised in this entire debate. The auditing of the lifestyles of wealthy individuals must not be done selectively.
Speaker of Parliament Jacob Mudenda says more than 90% of all legislators (244 members), including cabinet ministers, have declared their assets in line with the requirements of the Parliamentary Privileges Committee. Mudenda says the 26 non-compliant MPs have been given until March 19 to declare assets or face disciplinary action.

Clearly, the matter should not end there. MPs who are found in breach of the law by submitting false, incomplete and therefore misleading declarations have to be brought to justice. The law must not be applied selectively.