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‘When you fight corruption, it fights back’

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 By Prosper S Maguchu

JANUARY is a time of reflection. After the New Year’s hangovers have worn off, many will try to take stock of the previous year, to understand what went wrong and how they could have done better.

Since 1995, January has also been the month when Transparency International releases its Corruption Perceptions Index (CPI).

A bit of background for the uninitiated, the CPI developed data from 13 sources, all of which assess part of the perception of corruption in the public sector.
Currently, it ranks 180 countries “on a scale from 100 (very clean) to 0 (highly corrupt)”.

Zimbabwe’s ranking of 157 out of 180 countries (with a score of 24) is a solid indication of how highly corrupt the country is considered to be when examined through the lens of perceived levels of public sector corruption.

What’s more, the 2020 CPI (released on January 28) is an important report on corruption and COVID-19.

It focuses on the impact of corruption on government responses to the pandemic, as well as the extent to which democratic norms and institutions have been weakened during the pandemic.

In this piece I will highlight the impact of corruption on only two forms of democratic institutions, the media and one of the independent commissions in the Constitution —the Zimbabwe Anti-Corruption Commission (Zacc).

I have long argued that the most important measure of Zimbabwe’s anti-corruption record is its success or failure in prosecuting corrupt prominent political figures.

Corruption by high level officials, who have access to vast financial resources, directly impedes the provision of adequate health to Zimbabweans by diverting the resources that might otherwise flow to basic services.

In a broader sense, high-level corruption in Zimbabwe is so widespread and so central to the day-to-day workings of government that it undermines the effectiveness of public institutions at all levels.

The message is unmistakable — “when you fight corruption, it fights back”.

In part because where anti-corruption efforts are not backed by other radical institutional reforms, they fall prey to the overall endemic (systemic) crisis, a part of which, from the beginning, necessitated the anti-corruption war.

A poignant example of this is the Covidgate/Draxgate scandal. All those who have been arrested their cases have made little progress in court.

Senior political figures who have been widely implicated in the scandal have not been prosecuted. Still more jarring, journalists and other whistleblowers who have brought the scandal to the fore are facing persecution.

As I write this piece, journalist Hopewell Chin’ono continues to face persecution for reporting on COVID-19 procurement corruption within the Health and Child Care ministry which led to the arrest and sacking of Health minister Obadiah Moyo and the arrest of individuals linked to unscrupulous politicians.

Zacc is one of the independent commissions established by the Constitution meant to ensure checks and balances to government conduct.

Even the Zacc’s critics generally agree that the agency has done a competent job of prosecuting apolitical financial crimes under Loice Matanda-Moyo.

Although the Zacc’s track record on high-profile political corruption cases remains complicated. There is a widespread perception that while Zacc’s anti-corruption drive may have been politically selective, the work was nonetheless dynamic and effective.

Zimbabwe’s other law enforcement bodies have failed to complement the efforts of Zacc.

For instance, on paper, the Zimbabwe Republic Police (ZRP) and the National Prosecuting Authority (NPA) have powers that in some ways outstrip those of Zacc.

Unfortunately, they have been ineffective relative to their size and statutory power and have displayed little appetite to tackle high-level corruption related to COVID-19 procurement.

All things considered, corruption’s fights back can be a double-edged sword.

With flights grounded as countries across the world including Zimbabwe are on lockdown, corrupt politicians are getting a wake-up call that they must fix their healthcare systems.

Will the fear of death be strong enough to awaken political elites from their corrupt or ideological slumber?

Can our leaders now feel compelled to adequately invest in an effective and integrated health system?

It remains to be seen though, whether the tendency of political elites to have short memories will, a few years after the pandemic has waned, find them reverting to their familiar habits of seeking medical attention abroad.

For every Zimbabwean’s sake, including their own, it is my hope that they do not make the same mistake again.

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