By Pepukai Chivore
Corruption is an insidious plague that has a wide range of corrosive effects on societies. It undermines democracy and the rule of law, leads to violations of human rights, distorts markets, erodes the quality of life, and allows organised crime, terrorism and other threats to human security to flourish.
Corruption reduces tax revenue and the effectiveness of various financial assistance programmes. Most importantly, corruption breaks the trust between the citizens and the state that is critical for development to work.
It also reduces the effectiveness of various financial assistance programmes (both state and international), as money is “lost somewhere along the way” and does not reach those that need it or for whom it is intended.
In the most fragile corners of the world, corruption undermines work to bring stability or prevent violence and extremism from taking root.
The scourge has become an endemic challenge in society and is threatening efforts by governments to progress on the internationally agreed-upon United Nations 2030 Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs), as well as other national economic development priorities and emergencies like the Covid-19 pandemic. The face of corruption has changed in the digital age, making it more complicated to deter, detect and punish without adopting responsive innovation.
The evil phenomenon is so pervasive and has been around for so long that you could truly say that it is as old as humanity, and it is to be found everywhere there is humanity. Corruption is not a preserve of a few, but is found in all countries big and small, rich and poor, in the North, the South, the West and the East of the planet.
It is however in the developing world that its effects are most destructive. This is so because it hurts the poor disproportionately by diverting funds intended for development, undermining a government’s ability to provide basic services, feeding inequality and injustice, and discouraging foreign investment and aid.
The scourge represents a huge loss to tax payers and governments around the world struggling to provide adequate services for their citizens.
It is therefore a key element in economic under-performance, and a major obstacle to poverty alleviation and development.
Like the former United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime (UNODC) Executive Director Antonio Maria Costa rightfully put it, “the three main monotheistic religions (Christianity, Islam and Judaism) believe that the first humans (Adam and Eve) were bribed by a snake into disobeying the Lord. On that occasion, as in so many real-life cases ever since, the individual gain was modest (an apple), while the damage to others was colossal (namely, the whole of humanity was driven out of Eden)”.
Wherever it is present, this scourge involves public officials, business managers and private citizens, who engage in such illegal acts as embezzlement of public funds, trade in influence and bribery. Scandalous examples include cases of public officials who steal billions of dollars from their national coffers and of multinational companies that pay hefty bribes to secure lucrative public contracts. Over the past few decades several harrowing tales of corruption have rocked both government and the corporate world alike. Some of the most widely “quoted world corruption scandals” include:
- Draining of Nigerian Assets by the then Nigerian President Sani Abacha from 1993 until his death in 1998 whose five-year rule was shrouded in corruption allegations, though the extent and severity of that corruption was highlighted only after his death when it emerged that he took between US$3 billion to $5 billion of public money.
- Siemens corruption in Germany where in 2006, it was discovered that for over a decade, it paid bribes to government officials and civil servants around the world, amounting to approximately US$1,4 billion while citizens got overpriced necessities such as roads and power plants.
- Monopolisation of the economy by the then President Ben Ali in Tunisia from 1987 to 2011 wherein he shut competition out whilst letting 220 family businesses monopolise numerous industries, including telecommunications, transport and real estate.
- Venezuela’s currencies of corruption wherein US$1,2 billion was siphoned off from the state-owned oil company, PDVSA, by a group of Venezuelan ex-officials to the US, exploiting the country’s complicated currency exchange system that only allows certain people and companies to exchange currencies at the official, hugely inflated rate.
- The Panama Papers which showed that Mossack Fonseca created 214 000 shell companies for individuals who wanted to keep their identities hidden and hid at least 140 politicians and public officials, including 12 government leaders and 33 individuals or companies who were blacklisted or on sanction lists by the United States government for offences like trafficking and terrorism.
- A “modern coup”, by the Gupta family who took control of South Africa through allegedly bribing politicians, giving lucrative jobs to President Zuma’s children and other ways of buying influence. They allegedly took as much as US$7 billion in government funds, including a US$4,4 billion supply contract with South Africa’s rail and port company. The Guptas also hired and fired government ministers, while the president fired tax officials and intelligence chiefs to protect them from investigation.
Realising that no country, region, economic sector, race, gender, or religion is immune from corruption, the need to work together and with partners from business and civil society to tackle the scourge cannot be overemphasised.
We need to face this challenge openly and frankly to fulfil our shared commitments under the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development to “substantially reduce corruption and bribery in all their forms” and strengthen the recovery and return of stolen assets Irrespective of race, culture and history; irrespective of religious values and philosophical beliefs.
Among the most common causes of corruption are the political and economic environment, professional ethics and morality and, of course, habits, customs, tradition and demography. The universally accepted criminological perspective is that every instance of corruption depends on there being three essential factors in the make-up of any would-be perpetrator which are the motive, opportunity and justification.
Some of the identified causes of corruption in Zimbabwe include poverty, inflation and economic volatility; inefficient tax administration; impunity; lack of effective enforcement of regulations; low salaries of workers in tax administration and public offices which create incentives for corruption; high tax and complex processes; limited digitalisation of tax payment systems; and information asymmetry
The adoption of the United Nations Convention against Corruption (UNCAC) by Zimbabwe on February 20, 2004 and ratified March 8, 2007, sends a clear message that the country is determined to prevent and control corruption. Zimbabwe also adopted the African Union Convention on Preventing and Combating Corruption (AUCPCC) on July 11, 2003 and ratified the Sadc Protocol on Corruption-2004.
The Zimbabwean Constitution enacted in 2013 has various provisions that relate to the anti-corruption crusade. Section 9 enjoins the State to adopt and implement policies and legislation to develop efficiency, competence, accountability, transparency, personal integrity and financial probity in all institutions and agencies of government.
Subsection 1 paragraphs (a) and (b) speak on the appointments to public offices which must be made primarily on the basis of merit and is instructive of the state to take measures to expose, combat and eradicate all forms of corruption and abuse of power by those holding political and public offices.
Chapter 13 obligates the State to establish institutions to combat corruption and fight crime.
Zimbabwe has also enacted several pieces of legislation that fight corruption. These include, but are not limited to the Anti-Corruption Commission Act (2004), Anti-Money-Laundering and Proceeds of Crime Act, Prevention of Corruption Act, Public Entities and Corporate Governance Act, Criminal Procedure and Evidence Act, Legislation on Unexplained Wealth Orders/illicit enrichment.
The National Development Strategy, in paragraph 872 reiterates the Government’s commitment to reduce corruption by ensuring speedy prosecution and resolution of all corruption cases.
This is because corruption has been identified as a stumbling block in the delivery of public services. Make no mistake about it, prevention does not mean printing posters or running television advertisements about the merit of integrity and the cost of dishonesty.
Prevention means putting in place concrete anti-corruption measures and public sector management practices based on the rule of law, transparency and accountability. These include:
- Enactment of whistleblower legislation — Paragraph 874 of the NDS promises a system to protect whistleblowers who report corruption through enacting an Act of Parliament;
- Mindset and regulatory changes;
- Simplification of tax payment procedures and processes;
- Oversight on recruitment, compensation and lifestyle audits of employees;
- Exposing corruption and toughening the penalties;
- Strengthening capacity of citizens and institutions in the criminal justice system; and
- Strengthen institutions which help the corruption fight like ZRP, Zimbabwe Anti-Corruption Commission and NPA
Successful anti-corruption efforts must feature a broad coalition of leaders both inside and outside of government to work together to remove this vice from our society. Matters concerning honesty, transparency and accountability must be the basis of such shared commitment and must also be widespread to have an impact for change.
- Chivore is an economist based in Harare. He is an expert in Public Finance Management andwrites in his individual capacity. — email@example.com. These weekly New Perspectives articles are coordinated by Lovemore Kadenge, independent consultant, past president of the Zimbabwe Economics Society and past president of the Institute of Chartered Secretaries & Administrators in Zimbabwe. — firstname.lastname@example.org and mobile:+263 772 382 852.