Guest Column Miriam Tose Majome
THE latest Zinara graft scandal is the freshest in a series of corruption scandals which routinely grab the headlines for a short while before they fade into oblivion.
The finer details of each scandals may fade away, but not the memories of President Mnangagwa’s defiant speeches against it. The memories of that historic night in November 2017 when he returned to a heroes welcome as President Robert Mugabe’s long illustrious political career came to a sudden inglorious halt are still strong.
As Jah Prayzah’s iconic hit song Kutonga Kwaro belted on into the magical night air and at many other times thereafter including at his inauguration President Mnangagwa gave rousing speeches and solemn promises that gave a dejected nation a glimmer of hope.
His bold impassioned promises about prioritising the fight against corruption charmed and won over even the most hardened sceptics. However, it has taken two years to realise that it was all just talk or mere political banter, as professor Jonathan Moyo instructed us once upon a time. It is a well-known legal principle that justice must not only be done, but must also be seen to be done.
Instead of seeing more cases and convictions in the courts we routinely witness thieves and fraudsters walking freely out of court thumbing noses at us and boasting that nothing can touch them We feel rather silly to actually have believed that things had changed and that the dispensation really is new.
If anything the corruption is getting worse because the scandals which are reported are only getting more incredible. It is hard to understand why nothing meaningful has been done when this is one problem which cannot hide behind the sanctions and forex shortages excuses.
The latest corruption scandal starring the State roads agency Zinara which collects and administers road toll fees and other road and transport related levies reads like a riveting plot adopted from a racy James Hadley Chase novel.
Reports of US$25 000 hairdos for executives and directors, US$4 000 gym subscriptions for big bosses in addition to expensive gym equipment installations in their palatial homes in the hills and more make for some scintillating bedside reading. This is all courtesy of tollgate fees and road levies demanded daily from long suffering and struggling motorists using the country’s not so impressive roads.
The Zinara saga is a scintillating tale of avarice and greed rivalling any reality TV show and would teach the Kardashians a thing or two about chowing money. However, what is more disturbing than the scandal itself is the blasé attitude of Zimbabweans. No one seems particularly shocked by it but just a little impressed by the figures.
It was just another newspaper story for that day. We’ve seen and lived through it all like the PSMAS, ZBC, AirZim board scandals and many others so there is nothing new. We read the papers that day and talked about it a little amongst ourselves at work and on kombis and shrugged our weary shoulders and got on with our lives as we wait for the next big scandal.
The problem is that corruption is now pervasive, and not for only the shrewdest and most politically well-connected in town, but also involves tens of thousands of paper pushers in lowly paid miserable jobs who are milking the country dry.
Some are runners for bigger fish, but some stumbled upon a hole somewhere and are milking the cow inconspicuously from their small desk and living inexplicably opulent lives after 5. Earnings from wages and legitimate businesses can never explain some peoples’ investments in luxury vehicles, real estate and stashes of United States dollars squirrelled away somewhere.
The legislation is in place like the Prevention of Corruption Act, the Anti-Corruption Commission Act and various Criminal Law Statutes. The law lacks for nothing, but political will and decisiveness.
It is a good thing that we have a functioning justice delivery system that subscribes to competent jurisprudence principles. However, this noble system is often abused such that courts are just playgrounds for criminals where their lawyers go to say smart things while corrupt judicial officers and incompetent State prosecutors fumble about clumsily and ensure that even the most obviously guilty criminals are acquitted.
The issues bedevilling our justice delivery processes are well known, but the political and administrative leadership is reluctant to deal decisively with them for reasons they know best. When questioned why known criminals are often acquitted in fuzzy circumstances and for mere legal technicalities the leadership conveniently say their hands are tied because the arms of government are separate and independent.
A few unlucky corrupt officials get arrested once in a while before they are released on bail pending trial or appeal and then are never heard of again or sometimes nothing just happens not even ceremonial arrests. Two years later people still want to know what became of the former Minister of Local Government Ignatious Chombo’s various cases and charges of corruption as well as of the mysterious criminals who were reportedly surrounding President Mugabe.
The corruption cancer needs a sincere and radical approach such as adopted by countries like China and Singapore. Zimbabwe has been consistently ranked low by Transparency International. In 2015 it was ranked 150 out of 168 countries and 160 out of 175 countries in 2018.
In China penalties for corruption include fines, confiscation of property, imprisonment and even death sentences. Even if the severest punitive measures cannot totally eradicate corruption they still have deterrent effect.
We need such radical approaches which entail amendments in the law and the way we do things otherwise these current slaps on the wrists only encourage more corruption. China has seen massive reductions in levels and incidence of corruption since President Xi Jinping redoubled the anti-corruption effort and since 2012 almost 200 000 corrupt Chinese officials have been arrested. Where the political will by leaders is weak or non-existent, citizens can be forgiven their whispering that the reluctance is because some of their fingers are also in the cookie jar.
Every year the Auditor General produces damning reports exposing run away corruption and abuse of public funds in government ministries and State-owned enterprises. Parliamentary Committees also unearth some serious shenanigans, but government agencies do nothing about it.
The President never misses an opportunity to talk about how his government is dealing with corruption.
In February 2018 a few months into his presidency, amid fever pitch excitement, the President superintended the compilation of a long list of companies and individuals who had allegedly externalised foreign currency. They were promised nothing less than gnashing of teeth and fire and brimstone.
But to nobody’s great surprise nothing was ever heard of this story again, but some of us do not forget easily.