IT HAS been an honour to be part of the Zimbabwe Coalition on Debt and Development (Zimcodd) #HowFar campaign.
The idea of running an accountability campaign using a very pithy question often used by Zimbabweans from across society when soliciting for a detailed update on an issue, just blew my mind and got me excited.
The campaign has created a storm amongst the citizens triggering an avalanche of questions making it clear more has to be done to make information more public, open and accessible.
It resonates with the citizens as it is a common street lingo harnessed to be an agency igniter. The question: How Far sounded very relevant to use in public affairs and easy to get traction from the citizens to ask the government questions regarding public finance accountability based on promises and mandates of the government as stewards of the public purse.
The #HowFar campaign was inspired by the need to facilitate a multi-channel communication public platform focused on facilitating citizens` involvement in making public finance management and policy more pro-people and pro-poor.
The questions that need answers from the authorities in Zimbabwe are many and the campaign tackled some of them, both online and offline on the streets.
One Billboard asked, How Far with mega deals? This is a fundamental question for the 49% Zimbabweans living in extreme poverty. Inequalities and lack of access to basic services are the lived realities of the majority. This reality is a dissonance to the government pronouncements of mega deals that amount to close to US$20,1 billion since 2017. Zimbabweans are looking for transformational government projects that address their basic needs such as health, food, water, education and decent jobs.
Surely any mega deal for Zimbabweans has to be linked to addressing the triple burden of poverty, unemployment and inequalities.
Anything that does not in real terms speak to their access and disposable incomes only remains delusional and schizophrenic.
Another question was How Far? with the implementation of the Office of the Auditor General’s (OAG) Recommendations? To date the auditor-general has made 356 recommendations and only 92 of them have been fully implemented, representing 26% commitment to address the findings by the OAG.
Of the 92 local authorities, only 23 have submitted financial statements for 2019. These anomalies defeat the constitutional principles of transparency and accountability in public finance management under section 298 (1) (a) and the oversight role of parliament under section 299 of the constitution.
While Zimbabwe fails to finance its own development, bemoans sanctions and alienation from the international community and remains with a huge debt overhang of US$10,5 billion, it has enormous opportunities to build its own development financing agency if recommendations to plug leakages are implemented.
While at the implementation of the OAG’s recommendations one of the key tasks under the #HowFar campaign has been the curbing of grand corruption.
Corruption is a form of tax borne by the citizens and it is their right to ask that corruption cases be arrested, prosecuted, charged and the loot be recovered.
A few questions were raised pertaining to the Draxgate, Nssa and Zinara scandals. A quick scan of the corruption scandals in agriculture, energy, infrastructure, transport and telecoms shows that the government has lost at least US$5,8 billion.
The leakages are at procurement and execution stages where the government gets a raw deal due to lack of due diligence, violation of constitutional provisions requiring parliamentary approval for certain deals and inflated prices emanating from the opacity in contract awarding.
For example, Kariba South Hydro Expansion was constructed by Sinohydro using a loan from EximBank of China to the tune of US$533 million for 300MW, Zambia just across the border paid US$278 million for 360MW — 60MW more!
Another example is the NetOne Telecoms Infrastructure Upgrade; a mega deal of US$218 million. NetOne was prejudiced of US$78 million from overcharging by Huawei, its infrastructure partner.
The company was supposed to pay US$120 million or in the worst-case scenario, to pay a maximum of US$140 million. A number of the government projects could have cost less with more transparency, due diligence and negotiations.
The #HowFar question therefore as a way of unravelling “tenderpreneurship” and bringing the government to account will be looking for answers that speak to improvement of procurement, contracting of projects and getting the best deals that deliver on minimum costs given the tight fiscal space. Many other questions have been asked under the #HowFar campaign on debt management, public service delivery, alignment of laws to the constitution among other critical public interest questions.
While the “what” answer is important, the How Far question can never be exhausted by just answering that part of the question. Transparency and accountability questions like How Far require detailed answers and the pathway to answering the question goes through being answerable to; the how was or is it being done, who did or is doing so and answer to timelines for specific projects.
To build a culture of transparency and accountability, there is a need for both a proactive citizenry and government. In the founding values and principles of the Zimbabwe Constitution, section 3 (2) (f) says there must be respect for the people of Zimbabwe from whom the authority to govern is derived.
The hallmark of that respect is ensuring that there is transparency, justice, accountability and responsiveness to both private and public questions that seek to foster the culture of accountability.
While the government has enacted the Freedom of Information Act, which the citizens must be proactive in making use of, the government must also be proactive in disposing and putting in the open public interest information as not all citizens have the capacity or capabilities to apply for information from government departments.
The government can achieve this by facilitating the following key principles of openness:
This entails informing, consulting, empowering citizens to be part of decision-making processes. This is in line with section 13 of the constitution, which provides for the kind of national development that is empowering and agency giving. While parliament plays its role or representation that is in no way substitution of the people’s voice where it matters.
The new dispensation must revisit the Edward Chindori-Chininga 2013 report to Parliament, which exposed the glaring gap when it comes to ministerial accountability to Parliament.
While that report was on the diamond sector, the overstepping of parliamentary roles is similar across sectors and in key decision-making such as the management of the consolidated revenue fund, debt management, government agreements with foreign entities and contractual matters with fiscal obligations.
Transparency and accountability
Government must actively account for its actions and inactions and take public responsibility for those actions by commission or omission. Being answerable publicly is a sign of a maturing democracy and answering publicly to the How Far question than condescending through the mirror image defeats the “new” in the dispensation.
This means the government being active in providing open, complete, primary, timely, accessible, machine processable, non-discriminatory, non-proprietary, license-free data must be made available and in accordance with international standards for publishing data on the Web. This will reduce applications for information by citizens and simplify access to information protocols. This is easy to do as every government ministry has an information officer. The information officer must be charged with consolidating all information and feeding into an open data portal. This includes circulating the information in easy-to-understand language such that it reaches its full potential through targeting the most marginalised in terms of receiving balanced information from different sources.
Zimbabwe has gone through many decades of binary narratives reducing accountability questions to toxic political questions. Being responsive to the how far question can be leveraged on by both government and the citizens to collaborate and co-create policies and practices that build stronger social contract and responsibility for a more just and equitable Zimbabwe. The government and the citizens alike have to embrace inclusion and diversity in policy matters.
Ordinary Zimbabweans from all walks of life should take the opportunity to join the #HowFar campaign and ask questions that demand for accountability at all levels of government.
The government can say all the right things by using the mirror but it is the citizens who can give the window view and assess government commitment to being transparent and accountable.
True development does not build high walls around projects, it must allow public scrutiny and it is about empowering the citizens for self-sustenance and keeping those that govern in check.
When we ask How far? We expect detailed responses from the government and clear steps to entrench accountability in public finances and governance, no less. There cannot be stability without accountability!
- Zhou is the executive director at Zimbabwe Coalition On Debt and Development (ZIMCODD), a socio-economic justice movement. She writes in her own capacity. — @JanetZhou_Mago. These weekly New Horizon articles are coordinated by Lovemore Kadenge, an independent consultant, past president of the Zimbabwe Economics Society and past president of the Institute of Chartered Secretaries and Administrators in Zimbabwe. email@example.com/ cell: +263 772 382 852