BY TINASHE KAIRIZA
Rampant corruption permeating the entirety of government, as revealed by Auditor-General (AG) Mildred Chiri in her 2019 audit report, is yet another damning indictment of President Emmerson Mnangagwa’s administration.
Mnangagwa came into power in 2017 through a military coup, but promised a raft of economic and political reforms, including tackling corruption decisively which had mutated into a cancerous vice under the late former president Robert Mugabe’s 37-year-old rule.
Riding on a wave of international goodwill, Mnangagwa charmed Zimbabweans with ambitious pledges of ushering in a new dispensation in which his government would curtail sleaze, introduce business friendly policies and spruce up the country’s hostile investment climate.
During his maiden appearance at Davos, Switzerland, in 2018, the first ever such by a Zimbabwean leader, Mnangagwa cast a spell on the global audience, predicting that fighting corruption was crucial towards addressing Zimbabwe’s intractable economic crisis.
Prior to the historic Davos appearance, Mnangagwa had emphasised the need to deal with corruption at a time Zimbabwe was ranked 154th out of 176 countries on Transparency International’s 2016 Corruption Perception Index.
“As we focus on recovering the economy, we must shed misbehaviours and acts of indiscipline which have characterised the past. Acts of corruption must stop forthwith. There should be no sacred cows,” Mnangagwa said in his inauguration address in 2018.
However, four years on, systemic corruption continues unabated.
Chiri’s audit report for the financial year ended December 31, 2019, reveals public sector mismanagement bleeding the economy of millions of dollars.
A look into the 2019 audit report shows that state-run entities suffered huge losses due to bad governance, mismanagement and corruption. The report shows that 34 state-run entities failed to submit financial statements for audit, while 54 audits were still in progress and 52 were complete.
Entities whose going-concern status has come under scrutiny are the Zimbabwe Consolidated Diamond Company. Chiri questioned the mining firm’s capacity to recover money exceeding US$400 million.
In addition, the Procurement Regulatory Authority of Zimbabwe (Praz) had to write off US$2,39 million due to inadequate contract information, which resulted in the failure to collect amounts owed.
Chiri said she was not convinced of the accuracy of administration fees amounting to US$1 514 280 (in 2016) and US$1 329 650 (2017) and the existence and valuation of related trade receivables amounting to US$2 380 983 (2016) and US$717 200 (2017).
In the face of such glaring corruption, Stephen Chan, a professor of world politics at the University of London believes that Mnangagwa’s administration was bereft of political will to fight corruption.
Chan highlighted that Zimbabwe had effectively descended into kleptocracy, with the political elite perpetuating corruption thereby scuttling efforts to turn around the fragile economy.
“The President’s administration is not interested in breaking the cycle of corruption. It buys party loyalty. It creates an upper elite of oligarchs who have the wherewithal to support the regime. It (corruption) impacts the economy since the Finance minister (Mthuli Ncube)’s policies seem entirely devoted to revitalisation of the economy from the top down — very classical orthodox economics — but this means working with the oligarchs at the top,” Chan opined.
“If these oligarchs indeed circulated and invested the money downwards, this kind of policy has a slim chance of working. If they keep it for themselves and in foreign bank accounts, no local good can be accomplished. In this case, as the saying goes, ‘the rich get richer and the poor get poorer’.”
Chiri’s report also shows that Mnangagwa’s administration gobbled nearly ZW$7 billion in unauthorised expenditure in 2019 owing to lack of accountability in line ministries, exposing the rot at the heart of the government’s financial management system.
The report, on appropriation and fund accounts, also showed that the government could be paying ghost workers because there was no proper register for civil servants. Though Mnangagwa’s government has consistently spoken about the need to flush out ghost workers on the public service payroll, the desire to implement the pledge remains elusive.
Chan observed that such glaring graft, fueled by officials in the upper echelons of power, lacked the decency to mask their criminal activities.
“It seems from the Auditor-General’s report that people are not even taking the care to try to hide the corruption,” Chan said.
Economist Tawanda Purazeni said Mnangagwa’s administration still has a long way to go in the anti-corruption fight.
“The damning 2019 audit report by the Auditor-General is a clear indication that the government is not walking the talk in as far as the fight against corruption is concerned,” Purazeni said.
“Funds in the mining sector and every other arm of the government continue to go unaccounted for. This vicious cycle of graft cannot be broken since it is being propagated by those in the government.”