By Silence Mugadzaweta
ZIMBABWEANS envy foreign countries. They wish other countries were Zimbabwe. Some even wish to go away without the hope of ever coming back. Not because they are less patriotic or they do not love the country but because they feel betrayed.
Living in Zimbabwe is a frustrating experience on a day-to-day basis. Everything is normal until you want to process official documents like a National Identity Card, a passport or a driver’s licence.
At the heart of this frustration, people mention poor administration of the country’s affairs, corruption and toxic politics. Literally, Zimbabwe has long departed from the principles of good governance. We hear stories of a better Zimbabwe, soon after independence, a country in which all industries were fully operational as many celebrated black majority rule.
We hear of a time when the Zimbabwe dollar used to be twice stronger than United States dollar.
But when did the rain beat us. How did Zimbabwe become so poor to the extent of importing toothpicks?
Today, we import US$1,1 billion worth of steel annually. But we had our own Ziscosteel, a steel manufacturing giant that has been turned into a white elephant.
Zimbabweans are frustrated because they saw things deteriorating right in front of their eyes, sometimes even offering advice to government. The government has, however, attributed our suffering to economic sanctions, opposition parties, all sponsored by the West and America.
After inheriting an economy characterised by racial imbalance, inequalities in incomes and justice, the government gave itself a task to reorganise and correct the colonial legacy.
Zimbabwe recorded the strongest post-independence economic performance in the period 1980-81, with an average gross domestic product of around 5,5%. 2008 recorded a low performance of -17,70%.
Contestations remain between government, opposition parties, the general public, labour organisations and civil society as to whether the economy is growing or not.
But in real terms, Zimbabwe is confronted with a host of challenges many of which are caused by poor governance. Poor service delivery, violence, slow growth, corruption, natural resource curse are just but a glimpse of problems facing this country.
On paper and at Press conferences, the government often mention principles of good governance. However, the level of responsiveness, openness and transparency, competence and the capacity of having sound financial management, accountability is still questionable in Zimbabwe.
Zimbabwe has a reputation of signing various “mega deals”, and MoUs for whose contents are never disclosed to the public. It’s not amusing to see a Chinese company bringing excavators to your residence and starting a project.
We may comfort ourselves in lies, saying the economy is on the rebound but the truth of the matter is we have been left behind. The conviction is, until such a time we confront ourselves and reconfigure our governance structure and systems, we shall remain far behind.
Dealing with corruption
As of 2018, Zimbabwe had a low score of 22 on the International Corruption Perceptions Index, an indication of high levels of corruption in the public sector. Like it or not, corruption is the biggest obstacle to economic growth.
According to the Zimbabwe Anti-Corruption Commission, the country is losing almost US$2 billion to corruption annually. When Emmerson Mnangagwa assumed Presidency, he made a promise to decisively deal with corruption, released a long list of organisations that had externalised funds and evaded tax, prejudicing the State of millions of dollars. There was a sigh of relief among the populace and thought the long unanswered prayers had finally been answered.
The truth is that people are aware of the issues that affect them and corruption is at the core. The list of those who externalised funds and the action Mnangagwa vowed to take died a natural death.
Generally, political will to deal with corruption doesn’t exist. There is no commitment, co-ordination and co-operation to extinguish corruption. Catch and release has become the order of the day.
Former Labour minister Priscah Mupfumira stands accused of corruption, theft and misappropriation of public funds to the tune of US$95 million. Former Health minister Obadiah Moyo is implicated in the theft of US$65 million COVID-19 funds. These are but a few examples, whereby we are yet to see convictions. In an ordered world, it’s prudent to accelerate corruption cases especially in cases where audit reports have implicated prominent figures.
Recently, the government assumed Air Zimbabwe’s debts which are in excess of US$300 million, but no attempts have been made to investigate why there is that huge debt and no one is being made accountable.
This will remain the norm, people will be corruptly appointed on parastatal boards and management, squander all profits and wait for government to assume debts, life goes on.
It has been the same pattern with the National Railways of Zimbabwe, Ziscosteel, Zupco, CMED, Grain Marketing Board, NocZim, Willowvale Mazda Motor Industries, Zesa Holdings, Command Agriculture to name just a few.
Corruption is rife in these entities, where only those with links to the ruling party are appointed.
For a long time, Auditor-General Mildred Chiri has exposed a litany of gross misappropriation and accounting malpractices by government departments, parastatals and local authorities involving millions of dollars. Her reports present vivid details of proof on how millions of dollars were embezzled and wasted but no action has been taken. Some people actually got promoted.
While a number of mechanisms have been put in place to fight corruption especially legislative wise, implementation lacks.
Effective application of legislative instruments like the The Prevention of Corruption Act (1983); Public Service Act (1995); The Ombudsperson Amendment Act (1997); Anti-Corruption Commission Act (2004); The Criminal law (Codification and Reform) Act (2004); Bank Use Promotion and Suppression of Money Laundering Act (2004); Criminal Procedure and Evidence Amendment Act (2004); and Criminal Law (Codification and Reform) Act of 2006 will see Zimbabwe going a long way in the fight against corruption.
No one can dispute that our government is staffed by family and friends of the President, running government business for their benefit.
This is opposed to a situation, where the government is run on the basis of merit and expertise, serving the broad public interests; a progressive scenario. This set up is a disguise where in actual fact it’s just a group of people sharing state resources with friends and family.
Strengthening Parliamentary oversight
Section 299 of the Constitution of Zimbabwe highlights the oversight role of Parliament over all institutions and agencies of the State in respect of State revenues and expenditures.
In 2018, Obert Mpofu vowed never to appear before the Parliamentary Portfolio Committee on Mines and Energy regarding diamond mining activities under his watch as Mines and Mining Development minister.
We all know Zimbabweans lost an estimated US$15 billion in diamond revenue since the beginning of mining operations in Chiadzwa.
Today, the Marange community lives in abject poverty. There are no roads, no proper sanitation and many have been displaced without compensation.
Here is a man who was supposed to make sure everything runs smoothly and communities benefited, but none of that happened.
But his refusal to appear before Parliament and answer to issues concerning losses that were incurred is striking.
It sets a wrong precedent, and it shows that some politicians are more powerful than Parliament.
It’s not Mpofu alone; a few years ago Saviour Kasukuwere exchanged harsh words with Justice Wadyajena when he appeared before the Parliamentary Committee on Youth, Indigenisation and Economic Empowerment.
Nothing meaningful came out of his appearance. Kasukuwere started to allege sabotage and factional wars when answers were needed.
Sekai Nzenza dragged releasing NSSA audit report to Parliament in the initial stages.
One of the primary roles of Parliament is to hold government to account on behalf of the people. It is the duty of parliamentarians to hold ministers and government departments accountable.
Government operations must not escape Parliament scrutiny and any anomalies must be exposed, with those involved face consequence.
However, a situation like ours where, ministers refuse to answer to Parliament equates to absenteeism. This exposes the existence of weak institutions.
‘Quis custodiet ipsos custodes?’
The Parliament of Zimbabwe faces an uphill task, to fight for its relevance.
Government actions rarely go through checks and balances. Zimbabwean parliamentarians have to convince us that they truly represent our aspirations through their participation in Parliament.
Untouchables must face Parliament without fail, answer to questions and if found in violation or to be corrupt, criminal cases should follow.
Encouraging citizen participation
More often than not, the government is convinced that when people air their disapproval on governance system and government decisions, there is a third hand behind. We are forced to pay homage and cheer at every decision the government makes.
The conclusion, therefore, is when to one highlights or complains over poor service delivery particularly against the government, someone must have sponsored them.
If it’s against MDC-run councils, it’s OK since councils are the ones which have failed the people big time.
Citizens are key players in influencing governance anywhere in the world.
In Zimbabwe there is discord on what the government say and action on the ground.
Under proper circumstances and in the spirit of good governance, the government must form coalitions with citizens for effective review and implementation of policies.
This is a tried and tested new public management strategy that has been implemented by governments that listen to their people.
In Zimbabwe people have demonstrated over increasing levels of poverty, the poor state of the economy and declining standards of living.
These demonstrations were in the hope that government would lend an ear and address people’s concerns but many were arrested.
Surprisingly, prosecutions of cases of people who demonstrate are accelerated compared to corruption cases, sending a message to would be demonstrators not to attempt it.
But why not accelerate corruption cases so that we recover millions of dollars lost.
Clearly, there is an imbalance there and hopefully the government will address it.
It should be acknowledged that ruling parties alone do not bring change; they need partners including the opposition and citizens.
In this country political parties are far from accountability and integrity, both parties survive on the continued suffering of the public.
Finance minister can introduce a hurting tax; tell people they are introducing austerity measures. But behind the scenes he funds forex medical bills and air fares for Vice-President, minister or himself to go and seek medical attention overseas.
Citizen participation does not end with an election. An election is actually the genesis.
For increased accountability of public institutions, protection of rights, effective government programmes towards community needs the government of Zimbabwe and all administrative bodies should adopt citizen participation in their operations.
However, this is harnessed through accountability, sound public sector management, exchange and free flow of information.
Some of our problems are due to the exclusion of the public in decision making.
There is limited access to public documents like the Constitution and the national budget yet these are documents that define a people’s future and life.
Effective governance at all levels represents all voices, it’s not partisan.
Muchemwa S Mugadzaweta is a PR and digital communications expert, governance and policy specialist. He writes in his personal capacity.