Plugging illicit financial flows urgently required

THE arrest of Tashinga Masinire over an R11 million (US$780 000) gold contraband in South Africa after slipping his way out of Harare tells of an incurable illicit financial flows in Zimbabwe.

Candid Comment
brian chitemba
bchitemba@yahoo.co.uk

How Masinire managed to bypass airport security at the Robert Mugabe International Airport is still subject to police investigation.

But the underlying fact is that the local airport is a haven for criminal activities which are costly to the economy.

It is the same airport where controversial Zimbabwe Miners Federation leader Henrietta Rushwaya was arrested while attempting to smuggle 6kg of gold to Dubai. In a movie style, the airport closed circuit television (CCTV) was switched off by state security agents to facilitate the smuggling.

Thanks to the Military Intelligence Department (MID) which intercepted Rushwaya.

Now, we await the arrest of those who facilitated Masinire’s slippery moves from Harare to Johannesburg. Interestingly, Masinire is a former Rushwaya driver, although the latter has denied connections.

Masinire’s arrest reveals a well-knit syndicate of gold dealers who are living lavishly, while communities from where the gold is extracted are languishing in extreme poverty. Zimbabwe is under a natural resource curse, as there are vast minerals and wildlife yet the ordinary man is poverty-stricken.

During his shambolic rule, former president Robert Mugabe claimed that US$15 billion was lost from the Chiadzwa diamond fields in Manicaland. While the figure could not be sustained by evidence, Mugabe’s utterances were essentially an admission of illicit financial flows.

Again, the poverty levels around Marange communal lands are astounding. There are no roads, health facilities and other social amenities. On the contrary, those who mine the diamonds live on hilltop mansions in Harare and South Africa’s affluent suburbs.

The government should step up its fight against illicit financial flows, which the Financial Intelligence Unit estimated cost Zimbabwe over US$3 billion last year. Africa loses at least US$50 billion per year.

It is not enough to arrest smugglers and other corruption kingpins; asset seizures and repatriation of funds needs to be expedited. It’s a complex issue to deal with corrupt cartels like gold smugglers, but anti-corruption agencies have to up the game and plug the porous and fluid borders.

There is never a time to give up on the fight against illicit financial dealers. It took Nigeria about 15 years to freeze and repatriate US$1,2 billion proceeds of crime from the family of former Nigerian president General Sani Abacha. The same tough stance must be taken against those bleeding the Zimbabwean economy. Responsible authorities should block smuggling of gold, diamonds and other precious stones.

If the natural resources find their way into the formal economy, Zimbabwe would not be sinking in economic doldrums.