For many times in the past few months, President Robert Mugabe has informed citizens of this country of the level of corruption within the government.
GUEST COLUMN BY RASHWEAT MUKUNDU
At yet another birthday bash for him last week, he announced that a known Minister had demanded thousands of dollars in bribes to facilitate a meeting between the President and a businessman.
It is becoming less difficult to believe Mugabe (90) now is being misled and misinformed by his juniors, the Godwills Masimirembwa issue being a case in point. And the President is now in the habit of announcing his displeasure at public forums without telling us the corresponding action.
In this regard, we simply ask the president to act by dismissing the concerned minister and taking corrective action so that no such acts of distrust happen again.
This could be the end of this article, but then the problems are much deeper than the President simply acting because chances are that he won’t and chances are that this minister will be part of the Cabinet meeting this week and nothing will happen to him now and in the future.
It is for this reason that I say it is better that senior government officials including Mugabe stop making public pronouncements on corruption and simply act, so that what the media reports about and what citizens talk about is not the President’s statements lamenting corruption, but the actions by him and the court cases in which this particular minister and many other hoodlums in this government have to defend themselves against allegations of corruption.
The lamentations by Mugabe tell us that the problems are much deeper than we probably ever thought, for the President seems unable to deal with them himself. He is not addressing the problems, then the cry is: Who shall save us from this scourge?
The question has to be asked: When will Mugabe sing a new song about corruption, when will he tell us that we are now on the road to addressing corruption within government circles? At the moment all we hear are cries of disapproval and no action. It is also important to note that the debilitating corruption is not that at traffic road blocks by police where $5 changes hands, it is not that at the driver licensing queues where $20 or $50 changes hands.
This “small” corruption is unacceptable as not all of us have $20 to pay for a licence, but the most damaging corruption is done by the powerful and it involves millions of dollars. Millions from Chiadzwa diamonds fields, millions from Zinara, millions from Zesa, ZBC, NRZ and all these are directly under the ambit of State structures and Mugabe is the CEO.
So I am not worried about what happens at the traffic roadblock, but what happens to the millions from Zinara meant for road repairs? In any case, it is the leadership that sets the pace. When they buy mansions and latest cars from corrupt deals, the message is sent clear and loud to the lesser beings about what to aspire for, that is the good life from ill-gotten wealth.
So while the minister and permanent secretary steal millions, the government office cleaner steals brooms and toilet paper. The fish rots from the head as the Chinese say, so until action is taken and a new value system induced then we are all learning or aspiring to be corrupt because the leadership says this is ok.
This problem is much deeper because the whole system seems unable to function, those who are supposed to police the corrupt are themselves struggling with dealing with corruption. It is for this reason that the President needs not announce how corrupt his ministers and senior staff are, but how many he has sent to jail. By his own admission, the prisons are there and somewhat empty these days because of the amnesty.
Mr President, please send your ministers there so that such action becomes the news. Almost all the cases that the President has talked about from diamonds, gold, “facilitation” fees by ministers and those close to him, finally tell of a system that has broken down. It appears that everything centres on the President and the closer one is to the President the more one can abuse his name and office by throwing it around and at every place.
As ordinary citizens, we have also caught up on how power is centred in Zimbabwe. As many of us threaten those who owe us a $1 or so by throwing names of police officers, army officers and CIOs we know. The daring ones will even claim to work for the Presidents’ Office to smoothen and quicken things up.
Schools are known to reserve a number of places for those who will come with letters from the Office of the President. So it is important Mr President, that as you send the minister to Chikurubi or Khami or Marondera prison, you also clean up the image of the President’s Office.
The Office of the President is esteemed and in normal societies people aspire to work for that Office. In Zimbabwe, however, the mention sends shivers down our spines. And for our ministers the name is money-making machine and this, by Mugabe’s own admission. It appears that power must be decentralised and that checks and balances must be effective.
As we speak, the so called provincial assemblies are nowhere in sight. If set well, these could be places for local communities to engage local leaders on developmental issues. Year in and year out we read about the Comptroller-General’s reports on corruption within the government, yet there has never been a public response on action taken.
The Comptroller-General is a voice in the wilderness wasting taxpayers’ money because no one listens to or respects her findings. This to me is the starting point for the President. And hopefully action against corruption at the higher levels will be taken one day with or without the President giving consent.
Up and until then I hope the President talks about other things other than corruption. Corruption needs no more idle talk, just action.
lRashweat Mukundu is a Zimbabwean journalist. He can be reached on firstname.lastname@example.org