THE controversy surrounding the recent awarding of a US$1 million procurement contract without going to tender to Drax International, whose beneficial owner has close ties with President Emmerson Mnangagwa’s son Collins, is indicative of rampant corruption which is pervasive in government circles being fuelled by the political elite.
Drax, whose beneficial owner is Delish Nguwaya, has no proven track record in the procurement of essential medical goods. Nguwaya’s past is marred with multiple arrests.
In April, Nguwaya donated drugs worth US$200 000 in response to the government’s appeal for assistance as Mnangagwa’s cash-strapped administration battled to mobilise funds to tackle the raging Covid-19 pandemic which has claimed four lives in Zimbabwe. Mnangagwa received the donation at State House.
The shadowy firm, whose jurisdiction of incorporation is shrouded in mystery, inked deals worth US$60 million to supply drugs to National Pharmaceuticals (NatPharm) last year. Ironically, the firm, which was on the verge of supplying the government with medical equipment at inflated prices before the tender was revoked, claims to be registered in an international tax haven, Dubai.
The tender scandal, which has lifted the lid on the opaque public procurement process, sharply contradicts Mnangagwa’s mantra that his administration is committed to tackling graft as well as attracting foreign investment.
Two years ago, Mnangagwa emerged victorious from a contested poll, acknowledging in his inauguration speech that the cancerous vice which flourished during former president Robert Mugabe’s 37-year rule was hindering efforts to revive Zimbabwe’s floundering economy.
He pledged that his administration would fight sleaze, “without fear or favour”.
“We must as a society encourage and inculcate the culture of hard, honest work. The prosecution of perpetrators of corruption will be carried out without fear or favour,” Mnangagwa spoke emphatically as he delivered his inauguration speech on August 28, 2018.
However, recent reports by the Auditor-General as well as the irregular awarding of tenders to associates of the political elite show that Zimbabwe’s fight against sleaze is more bark than bite.
Without any landmark corruption case prosecuted so far, Mnangagwa’s calls to curtail sleaze, particularly by an elite political syndicate, sound hollow and insincere.
Even Western countries initially charmed by Mnangagwa’s rhetoric of a new dispensation have become disenchanted as the septuagenarian’s declarations have not been matched by action.
Political analyst Maxwell Saungweme, drawing similarities between Mnangagwa’s approach to tackle corruption and that of his predecessor, contends that the new dispensation is just old wine in new bottle skins.
“The Zanu PF regime we see today and that of Mugabe are the grandfathers of graft and corruption. The same corrupt lot under Mugabe are the ones in charge now,” Saungweme said. “The regime is unqualified to deal with graft. It runs in their bloodstream. They need to be removed from power to solve graft. They cannot reform.”
The looting of the country’s diamonds and the abuse of the Command Agriculture scheme, for instance, would have been a good starting point for any serious corruption investigation.
But to show the 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, because his party the MDC does not recognise Mnangagwa as the legitimate head of state and government.
If Mnangagwa — who in any case supervised the programme while still Mugabe’s deputy — was serious about tackling corruption, he would have called his legislators to order to enable the investigation to proceed.
In 2019, the President drew intense criticism when he named Justice Loice Matanda-Moyo to head the 12-member Zimbabwe Anti-Corruption Commission (Zacc), which also had come under the spotlight for its perceived lack of appetite to combat graft.
Matanda-Moyo is the wife of Foreign Affairs and International Trade minister Retired Lieutenant-General Sibusiso B Moyo. The former army chief was the face of the coup that propelled Mnangagwa to power.
Critics immediately pointed out that Matanda-Moyo’s controversial appointment was deeply steeped in nepotism, and mimicked the same patronage system that Mugabe created which left Zimbabwe entangled in a web of corruption. Admittedly, although the appointment of Matanda-Moyo could have been based on merit because she has demonstrable competence and skill, her husband’s close association with Mnangagwa has raised eyebrows.
Fresh in her new job, Matanda-Moyo last year moved in swiftly to arrest former Environment, Tourism and Hospitality minister Prisca Mupfumira for her alleged role in a US$95 million corruption scandal unearthed following a forensic audit report on the operations of the state-run National Social Security Authority (Nssa).
Mupfumira, who is in the dock over the US$95 million scandal, is alleged to have committed the crime during her time as Public Service, Labour and Social Welfare minister. Although Mupfumira’s arrest was hyped up as a “big catch” by Mnangagwa’s administration, critics pointed out that the minister had fallen out of favour with the powers that be.
In any case, the government did not show serious intent to prosecute Mupfumira. She is enjoying her freedom.
Mnangagwa has also been criticised by the international community, particularly the West, which has raised concern that Zimbabwe’s lethargic approach to embracing far-reaching reforms, including clamping down on graft, dampened the country’s re-engagement drive.
Economist Prosper Chitambara said it was imperative for Mnangagwa’s administration to build “strong institutions” to comprehensively tackle graft.
“Such actions (the irregular awarding a contract to Drax International) do not inspire confidence of economic agents on the commitment of government to fight corruption,” he said. “The best antidote against corruption is strong and accountable institutions that are underpinned by an accountable and ethical leadership.”