NATURAL disasters — tropical cyclones, road accidents, floods, droughts and diseases — have haunted Zimbabwe over the past few years, and amid these calamities, there have been recurrent reports of mismanagement of aid mobilised for the victims. The COVID-19 pandemic has proved to be no exception, with highly-linked officials caught with their hands in the cookie jar.
Unfortunately, corruption often thrives during such times of crisis. It is during this time that oversight mechanisms are normally at their weakest as State institutions and other stakeholders are under pressure to disburse aid quickly and alleviate the suffering of those affected.
The levels of corruption that thrive in such an environment range from outright theft, manipulation of regulations in the distribution of aid, extortion, flouting of procurement procedures and inflating of prices of aid commodities, and influence-peddling.
Given the opaqueness of the management of COVID-19 statistics as has been alluded to by health professionals, it becomes difficult for the public to believe that funds meant to benefit them are being professionally handled.
The fact that Finance minister Mthuli Ncube had to recant his earlier claims yesterday and issue a statement to “set the record straight” to assure the public that the donated and government-sourced COVID-19 vaccine doses would be distributed for free, exposes a yawning information gap in the corridors of power. His statement raises more questions than answers.
It is, therefore, important for stakeholders and government in particular to improve access to information as it relates to aid in the interest of public accountability.
Government must also consider adopting open contracting to enhance transparency and accountability in public procurement, while encouraging the public to expose corrupt activities whenever and wherever they occur without fear of reprisals.
Authorities should constantly seek feedback from citizens through social media platforms to help evaluate the effectiveness and efficiency of the COVID-19 response mechanisms being employed, thus fostering accountability and transparency in the use of public resources.
There is also need for government to set up an emergency fund administered by an independent body outside the President’s Office, to determine the criteria, distribution and allocation of resources in a fair manner.
Our fear is that in the absence of these safety measures, resources channelled towards alleviating the effects of COVID-19 might end up lining other well-linked individuals’ pockets as has happened in the past.
Zimbabweans have had enough of this culture of corruption. The new dispensation should live up to its pledge to eradicate this vice.