Who really is accountable?

AT the beginning of the Covid-19 crisis, we warned the nation that the next big arena of corruption would be the procurement processes surrounding murky tenders in the pandemic response effort.

As if prophetically, this has come to pass. Corruption in Zimbabwe follows a well-established pattern. Citizens watch helplessly as a strong stench of impunity suffocates everyone in its wake. There is a sense that graft has become the defining ethos of public administration in this country.

Tenders are not the only concern. Although officials are generally willing to provide a list of Covid-19 donations, they are reluctant to reveal the real beneficiaries of those goods. Can anyone guarantee that none of the donated masks, gloves and other items of personal protective equipment have not landed on the parallel market where some operators are inflating prices and making a killing?

In other countries, we have seen masks donated by Chinese billionaire Jack Ma being dished out to the public for free at roadblocks, state buildings and shop entrances. How has the government in this country distributed the donations?

The Zimbabwe Independent has written extensively on the murky procurement of Zupco buses. When Finance minister Mthuli Ncube appeared before the parliamentary committee on budget and finance this week, he was asked to explain. He absolved himself by replying that procurement is done by line ministries and not Treasury.

We found Ncube’s response worrying, for many reasons. As head of Treasury, he must surely know his responsibilities in relation to the national purse, not only in terms of public finance management law but also as stipulated by the constitution.

Asked by committee chairperson Felix Mhona about the procurement of 162 buses for Zupco at inflated prices by Landela Investments — a company owned by President Emmerson Mnangagwa’s ally Kuda Tagwirei, Ncube said “Treasury is not responsible for procurement, it is government departments and ministries that run procurement processes with the Procurement Authority of Zimbabwe and there are rules to be followed and our job as Treasury is to avail what needs to be paid”.

The Finance minister’s response was a continuation of the merry-go-round which the Independent has previously been subjected to by public officials. We have already sought comment from Local Government minister July Moyo, who said it was not his responsibility to comment. Transport minister Joel Biggie Matiza also washed his hands clean. Yesterday, we sought comment from the Procurement Authority of Zimbabwe (Praz). The reply from that state agency was consistent with the mind-boggling refusal to bear responsibility.

We find it unacceptable that no public official is willing to convincingly explain to us how taxpayer funds totalling ZW$863,2 million (US$34,4 million) are being spent on the controversial Zupco bus deal. A government must be accountable to citizens.