Towards combating corruption: A call for change in Zim polity

Mbudzi interchange, just another “eating” project.

BROADLY defined, corruption is “the abuse of entrusted power for private gain”, according to Transparency International.

This subtle phenomenon knows no borders and has deeply rooted itself globally. In the context of Zimbabwe, corruption has taken hold in the very heart of the nation — the public sector.

The public sector encompasses government institutions, its decentralised units, and various other entities responsible for delivering public programmes, goods, or services.

Within this vast arena, public sector corruption manifests in numerous forms, impacting multiple facets of Zimbabwean society. It finds a home in:

Government ministries and departments (MDAs), where officials misuse their entrusted authority for personal gain, diverting resources away from the public good.

The army, the police and other security agencies.  Even the institutions tasked with safeguarding the nation can fall victim to corrupt practices, eroding trust in vital public services.

Municipalities — local governments, which should be serving their communities, may instead be engaged in corrupt activities, compromising the well-being of citizens.

State-owned enterprises (SOEs) — entities established for the benefit of the nation can be plagued by corruption, siphoning off valuable resources meant for public use.

Government contractors — those contracted to carry out public projects may engage in corrupt practices, resulting in subpar work or inflated costs.

The Transparency International Global Corruption Perceptions Index (CPI) has rated Zimbabwe poorly, with a score of 23/100, where a score of 0 represents a highly corrupt state and 100 denotes a very clean one. It is evident that corruption has become deeply entrenched in Zimbabwe's public sector, and addressing this issue is paramount.

In this blog post, we will delve into the multifaceted problem of public sector corruption in Zimbabwe. We will explore its various forms, the factors that perpetuate it, and the efforts being made to combat it.

The fight against corruption is not just a duty of the government but a collective effort that requires the commitment of every Zimbabwean citizen. Together, we can strive for a more transparent, accountable, and corruption-free future for our nation.

Corruption in  public sector

Corruption within the Zimbabwean public sector is not a mere anomaly but has become systemic and endemic. It manifests in various forms, including grand corruption, petty corruption, and patronage.

Zimbabwe's struggle with public sector corruption encompasses several defining features, each shedding light on the extent and complexity of the issue:

Grand Corruption: This form of corruption involves high-level government officials distorting policies or manipulating the normal functioning of the state for their personal benefit. A prominent example is the occurrence of public procurement malpractices, where critical decisions are influenced by self-interest rather than the public good.

Petty Corruption: At the grassroots level, petty corruption thrives as low and mid-level public officials abuse their entrusted power while interacting with ordinary citizens seeking basic goods or services. This corruption seeps into everyday life, affecting crucial documents like birth certificates, identification cards, or passports. These services, which should be readily accessible to all, become the subject of extortion and bribery.

Patronage: In the realm of public sector corruption, patronage is a particularly insidious form of favouritism. It occurs when individuals are appointed to positions or receive government benefits not because of their qualifications or entitlement but due to their political affiliations or connections. This practice undermines meritocracy and erodes trust in government institutions.

The Transparency International Global Corruption Perceptions Index (CPI) paints a grim picture, awarding Zimbabwe a low score of 23/100, signifying a significant corruption problem within the public sector.

As we continue, we will not only uncover the intricacies of these corrupt practices but also explore the factors fueling this pervasive issue.

At this point, it is important to note that corruption is transferable from the public to the private sector mainly due to the high acceptance of bribes by public officials.

The public sector in Zimbabwe currently works in a challenging planning and economic environment, such that the sector becomes incapacitated, leading to poor service delivery. As economic pressures mount, public officials, both in the public and private sectors, may resort to demanding illicit payments.

They may justify these actions by citing their own financial struggles, including salaries that fall below living standards.

Factors fueling corruption

Understanding the root causes of corruption is crucial to combat it effectively. Corruption in Zimbabwe is fueled by a combination of regulative, cultural, and normative elements.

Regulative elements

Regulative elements pertain to the rules, monitoring mechanisms, and sanctions that influence conduct. However, in Zimbabwe, these elements have proven ineffective. The absence of standalone whistle-blower protection laws and a lack of judiciary independence have hindered anti-corruption efforts.

Additionally, institutions like the Zimbabwe Anti-Corruption Commission (Zacc) have fallen short in investigating high-profile government officials and transparently managing funds.

Without dedicated laws to protect whistle-blowers, those who expose corruption are left vulnerable to reprisals and victimisation. Another critical issue is the executive's unilateral appointment of judges.

When the executive holds significant sway over the judicial appointment process, it compromises the independence of the judiciary. An impartial adjudication of corruption cases becomes challenging when the judiciary is not shielded from the influence of the executive and political elites.

Moving on to the Zimbabwe Anti-Corruption Commission (Zacc), it faces limitations that affect its effectiveness. Zacc lacks prosecutorial powers, relying on the National Prosecuting Authority (NPA) for prosecution.

This reliance has contributed to perceptions that Zacc is ineffective, particularly when it comes to investigating high-profile government officials.

Furthermore, Zacc’s failure to adequately account for public funds, as highlighted by the Office of the Auditor General (OAG) in 2022, erodes public confidence in the commission and discourages individuals from reporting corrupt acts.

Lastly, within public-sector organisations, there is an undue reliance on internal and external audits to combat fraud. Unfortunately, these audits are not specifically designed for this purpose. To address corruption effectively, there is a pressing need to introduce a dedicated audit framework tailored to tackle fraud head-on.

These regulatory shortcomings shed light on the challenges Zimbabwe faces in its fight against corruption. However, the awareness of these issues also opens the door to potential solutions and improvements.

Cultural elements

The cultural aspect plays a significant role in sustaining corruption. Zimbabwe's civil society struggles to combat corruption due to poor strategy, fragmentation, and strained relations with the state. When civil society organisations are unable to coordinate effectively and maintain a tense relationship with government institutions, their ability to tackle corruption becomes severely compromised.

Another cultural factor at play is the rationalisation of corrupt practices. Rationalisation by both perpetrators and victims contributes to low levels of integrity, as individuals justify their actions with phrases like “what I took is a very tiny portion of the national cake”.

This rationalisation is not limited to those engaging in corruption; even victims of corrupt acts may fall into this trap. It involves justifying or normalising corrupt behaviour, ultimately leading to a decline in ethical standards and integrity.

Moreover, corrupt individuals often employ specific discourses to absolve themselves of guilt. These discourses serve as excuses or justifications for their actions.

For instance, the saying “Mbudzi inodya payakasungirirwa,” which loosely translates to "a goat feeds from the area where it is tied," rationalises taking advantage of opportunities for personal gain when they arise.

Similarly, phrases like "what I took is a very tiny portion of the national cake" and "almost everybody at my workplace is doing it" minimise the impact of individual corrupt acts and shift blame onto a collective responsibility.

These cultural elements contribute to the perpetuation of corruption in Zimbabwe by creating an environment where corrupt practices are not only tolerated but also excused.

Recognising and addressing these cultural factors are crucial steps in the fight against corruption.

Normative elements

Social norms and roles also perpetuate corruption in Zimbabwe. Testimonies reveal that citizens often resort to bribery to access essential services, indicating the acceptance of corrupt behaviour as the norm. Efforts to combat corruption often underestimate its social embeddedness.

Testimonies from the Transparency International Zimbabwe 2021 National Bribery Perception Index (TI Z 2021 NBPI) are telling. They reveal a stark reality:

“If you don't pay something, you will forever be on the waiting list”.

“You cannot get most of the services you need unless you pay a bribe”.

“There are a lot of high-sounding nothings on the fight against corruption in Zimbabwe. There are cases without a single conviction”.

These comments paint a clear picture of how deeply ingrained corruption has become in Zimbabwean society. It is not just a matter of individual actions; it is woven into the very fabric of social interactions and expectations.

Social norms play a pivotal role in influencing behaviour. They can either perpetuate corruption or act as a catalyst for change. Unfortunately, many anti-corruption efforts have fallen short because they underestimate the degree to which corruption is socially embedded.

To combat corruption effectively, it is crucial to address these ingrained norms and perceptions.

Now, let us ponder a couple of questions:

What do you think about the "catch and release" approach used in arresting people suspected of committing corruption crimes?

What implications does this approach have for the general public?

These questions encourage us to reflect on the effectiveness of anti-corruption measures and their impact on society as a whole. As we continue to explore the fight against corruption in Zimbabwe.

Consequences of corruption

One of the most concerning facets of corruption is its impact on society's well-being. Consider sextortion, a form of corruption where sex becomes the transaction currency.

This insidious practice can lead to a host of adverse outcomes, including unplanned pregnancies, the spread of sexually transmitted infections (STIs), mental health challenges, and even substance abuse. These consequences not only harm individuals but also strain the social fabric of communities. Moreover, corruption casts a long shadow over the delivery of essential

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social services like education and healthcare. When funds meant for these services are diverted for personal gain, it translates into subpar materials, inadequate infrastructure, and a shortage of qualified human resources.

This, in turn, compromises the quality and accessibility of these services, leaving the most vulnerable members of society to bear the brunt.

Undermining democracy and growth

In the political arena, corruption can erode the very foundations of democracy. Electoral fraud, for instance, undermines the integrity of elections and hinders economic growth.

When voters are denied their voice and elected officials remain unaccountable, it sows the seeds of distrust in the political system. This, in turn, may lead to a lack of motivation among government officials to serve their constituents' needs effectively.

What’s a worse, elected official may themselves engage in corrupt behaviour, further obstructing socio-economic progress. These political forms of corruption create a toxic cycle that hinders the development and prosperity of nations.

A drain on resources

From an economic standpoint, corruption can have dire consequences. Resources that should be channeled toward public welfare are diverted for private gain, resulting in reduced fiscal space. This means fewer funds available for vital public investments in infrastructure, healthcare, and education.

Additionally, corruption tarnishes a country's risk profile, discouraging foreign direct investment (FDI) and reducing the inflow of aid. As corruption festers, it also contributes to a brain drain, with job seekers seeking opportunities abroad, depleting the nation's human capital and stunting its potential for growth.

In a nutshell, corruption's impact extends far beyond financial losses; it leaves a lasting imprint on society, politics, and the economy. Recognising these consequences is the first step toward addressing this pressing issue and fostering a brighter future for all.

Progress and promising initiatives

Amidst the challenges posed by corruption in Zimbabwe, there are glimmers of hope and notable strides being taken in the battle against this pervasive issue.

Let us explore some of these positive developments that demonstrate the government's commitment to combating corruption.

Zimbabwe Anti-Corruption Commission (Zacc)

The mere existence of a specialised anti-corruption commission, known as Zacc, can be viewed as a strong indicator of the government's dedication to addressing corruption head-on. This institution is tasked with investigating and prosecuting cases of corruption, playing a pivotal role in upholding accountability.

National anti-corruption strategy (NACS)

Zimbabwe has taken significant steps by developing the national anti-corruption strategy (NACS) for the period 2020–2024. The creation of the NACS aligns with regional and international anti-corruption frameworks, including Article 5 of the United Nations Convention against Corruption (UNCAC), to which Zimbabwe is a signatory.

This strategic document serves as a roadmap for combating corruption and establishing a foundation for anti-corruption efforts.

Specialised anti-corruption courts

To expedite the handling of corruption cases, specialised anti-corruption courts have been established in all 10 provinces of Zimbabwe, operating at both High Court and Magistrate Court levels.

These dedicated courts have achieved significant results, clearing 79% and 89% of cases at High Court and Magistrate Court levels, respectively, during the year 2020.

Embracing technology

Efforts are underway to harness the power of technology, particularly artificial intelligence (AI), in the fight against corruption. This includes reducing human intervention in critical processes like the approval of key public sector documentation, such as Tax Clearance Certificates and electronic government procurement (e-procurement).

Furthermore, the introduction of the Integrated Electronic Case Management System (IECMS) in the courts promises to expedite case disposition, benefiting not only general legal proceedings but also corruption cases.

However, it is important to acknowledge that while these initiatives represent significant progress, challenges and gaps still exist. For instance, the NACS document needs further refinement, particularly in terms of collaboration between Zimbabwe's anti-corruption agencies.

Implementation remains a crucial hurdle, and bridging these gaps will be vital in making the fight against corruption more effective and sustainable.

These positive developments are stepping stones on the path to a more transparent, accountable, and corruption-free Zimbabwe.

Strengthening the regulatory framework

To fortify the regulatory framework and bolster the fight against corruption, several strategic actions have been proposed:

  • Stand-alone whistle-blower legislation: A significant stride towards enhancing the regulatory framework involves the enactment of dedicated whistle-blower legislation. This legislation aims to provide more robust protection for whistle-blowers, empowering them to report suspected corruption cases without fear of repercussions. The official announcement of this bill's introduction during the President's State of the Nation Address (Sona) on November 23, 2022, signals the government's commitment to creating a secure environment for those who choose to expose corrupt practices.
  • Addressing sextortion with dedicated legislation: Acknowledging the unique challenges posed by sextortion, there is a growing consensus advocating for stand-alone legislation designed to comprehensively tackle this issue. The existing legal framework may not adequately cover the nuances of sextortion, necessitating dedicated legislation to fill these gaps. By introducing specific laws aimed at combatting sextortion, Zimbabwe can send a clear message that such practices will not be tolerated.
  • Judicial Reform through JSC Involvement: Ensuring transparency and merit in the appointment of judges is vital for upholding the integrity of the judiciary. To achieve this, calls have been made for the Judicial Service Commission (JSC) to play a more active role in the appointment of judges. This includes reinstating public interviews of candidates, a move aimed at enhancing transparency and ensuring that appointments are based on merit rather than other considerations.

Political Landscape

The political environment plays a pivotal role in the fight against corruption. To create a more robust anti-corruption ecosystem, we need to address various aspects of the political landscape:

  • Strengthening Democracy: A robust democracy is a potent weapon against corruption. By ensuring that democratic processes are transparent, inclusive, and fair, we empower the electorate to reject corrupt politicians through the ballot box.
  • Fostering Political Will: The commitment to combat corruption must start at the highest levels of leadership. Fostering political will to fight corruption, particularly through strong anti-corruption signals from the top, sets the tone for the entire nation.

Comprehensive Corruption Education

Corruption education should extend to all political players, from the grassroots level to council and municipal representatives. By raising awareness and promoting ethical behavior, we can create a culture of integrity within the political sphere.

De-politicisation and demilitarisation of SOEs

State-owned enterprises (SOEs) should serve the public interest, not become instruments of political expedience. De-politicising and demilitarising SOEs helps ensure they operate independently and transparently, free from undue influence.

Impartial Prosecution

To deter potential perpetrators, all corruption cases must be prosecuted without bias or favor. A strong legal framework that upholds the principle of equal justice is essential.

Empowering civil society

Civil society organisations (CSOs) play a vital oversight role in holding government and institutions accountable. Creating an environment where CSOs can operate freely and effectively is essential for a robust anti-corruption effort.

Parliamentary oversight enhancement

Revising parliamentary rules and building the capacity of individual Members of Parliament (MPs) are critical steps. This empowers legislators to fulfill their oversight roles effectively and ensures that the checks and balances within the political system are upheld.

By addressing these political aspects, Zimbabwe can work towards a more transparent, accountable, and corruption-resistant political landscape. These strategies are essential in the fight against corruption, helping to create a brighter future for the nation.

Normative aspects

To tackle the deep-seated issue of corruption, it is crucial to address the underlying behavioural causes and instill a culture of integrity. Here are some strategies to target the normative aspects of corruption:

  • Ethical Communication: Addressing the behavioural roots of corruption begins with tenacious communication and the unwavering assertion of expected personal ethics and codes of conduct. Leaders, educators, and role models should consistently champion ethical behavior as a non-negotiable standard.
  • Engaging the younger generation: To create a lasting impact, anticorruption messages must reach the younger generation. This can be achieved through a revamped curriculum that integrates ethics and anti-corruption education. Additionally, leveraging various media channels such as outdoor messages and collaborating with the visual and graphic arts sector can make these messages more accessible and engaging for young minds.

Fair remuneration and adequate funding

Ensuring fair remuneration for public sector employees is a crucial element in reducing the temptation of corruption. When employees receive reasonable compensation, they are less likely to resort to corrupt practices to make ends meet. Adequate funding for government entities, such as ministries, departments, and agencies (MDAs), is equally important. This funding enables these entities to effectively deliver social services, reducing the need for corrupt shortcuts.

By addressing these normative aspects, Zimbabwe can create a society that values ethics, integrity, and accountability. Changing the norms surrounding corruption is a long-term endeavor, but with consistent efforts and a focus on the younger generation, it's a goal that can be achieved, leading to a brighter and more transparent future.

Policy development and frameworks

Effective policy development and frameworks are the bedrock of any successful anti-corruption strategy. Here are some vital steps and considerations to strengthen these foundations:

Compulsory ethics training

Implementing compulsory ethics training for all public sector personnel, especially those involved in the procurement value chain, is a proactive measure. This training instills a strong ethical foundation, reducing the likelihood of individuals engaging in corrupt practices.

Leveraging artificial intelligence (AI)

The use of Artificial Intelligence Systems can be a game-changer in the fight against corruption. Brazil's successful implementation of an AI system that detects 225 red flags of potential fraud in public procurement processes serves as a noteworthy example. Such systems can identify suspicious patterns, such as shell companies and colluding firms, enhancing transparency and accountability.

Open and transparent company registry

To further strengthen the AI system's effectiveness, it should be complemented by an open and transparent company registry. This registry allows for the identification of beneficial owners of government suppliers, promoting transparency in procurement processes.

Annual fraud risk assessments

Proactive prevention is key to mitigating fraud risks. Implementing annual fraud risk assessments for all public sector institutions, as outlined in section 3.2.2 of National Treasury Regulations (2002) of South Africa, is a preventive approach. It ensures that potential vulnerabilities are identified and addressed promptly.

Emphasising prevention over recovery

The importance of prevention cannot be overstated. Statistics show that the likelihood of recovering fraud losses is often low. In more than half of global cases (52%), organizations did not recover any fraud losses. In Sub-Saharan Africa, this figure stands at 52%. Learning from these statistics, it's evident that prevention is the most effective approach.

Collaboration and information sharing

Corruption knows no borders, and it often involves illicit financial flows. To address this, countries should collaborate by signing mutual legal assistance treaties. These agreements facilitate the sharing of information for investigations and prosecutions, making it harder for corrupt actors to escape accountability.

By developing and implementing robust policies and frameworks, Zimbabwe can create a more resilient anti-corruption infrastructure. These measures not only deter corruption but also bolster transparency, integrity, and accountability in public sector operations.

Conclusion: A call for change and collective action

In conclusion, it is evident that the fight against corruption in Zimbabwe is not just a matter of tweaking a few policies; it requires a fundamental shift in our approach. When the very laws designed to curb corruption end up perpetuating misery, it becomes imperative that these laws are reformed.

Insisting on the same failed strategies, projects, and mindsets that have yielded opposite results is akin to regulatory fundamentalism, which goes against the core values of our nation's development project.

We find ourselves entangled in toxic laws, toxic media discourse, and a toxic political and business culture. What we need now is a comprehensive detoxification, and this journey requires individuals of unwavering resolve.

To embark on this detoxification journey, we must rethink our strategies both within and outside Zimbabwe. However, it is important to acknowledge the current context. We cannot effectively fight corruption when our citizens struggle to put food on the table, and when salaries fall far below living standards.

Our efforts have often felt like drilling holes in water, resulting in wasted resources and unsustainable changes that fail to deliver results. Yet, there is an opportunity for Zimbabwe to set an example of how to do things differently and effectively.

Nonetheless, challenges persist, and our nation is in intensive care. To truly combat corruption, we need an accurate and inclusive diagnosis of the problem. This means involving not only the government but also all political parties, the private sector, civil society, the media, and ordinary citizens in identifying the problem and potential solutions.

Furthermore, we require the best minds to heal our nation. Conferences like this one, organised by universities to raise awareness and combat corruption, are commendable efforts. We must aim for solutions led by experienced experts, not first-year students.

While we anticipate resistance and regulatory fundamentalism, we have the world's resources at our disposal. We must not abandon Zimbabwe and its vulnerable citizens. Instead, we should harness our collective efforts to create change.

Building momentum necessitates genuine political will at all government levels and across agencies. We must collectively establish priorities and solutions, just as a patient in intensive care requires a team of medical professionals.

Corruption can only be defeated through collective action. We must find ways to introduce competition, transparency, and accountability into our processes and engage in long-term planning. Small successes will pave the way for larger accomplishments in the years to come.

Our vision should encompass simpler laws, stronger institutions, and a commitment to open government. A coordinated effort against corruption, coupled with research institutions that can build capacity and foster a culture of integrity, is essential.

Accountability is crucial, and those who engage in corrupt practices must face sanctions. However, we should also recognise and celebrate positive examples, as they inspire us to strive for greater achievements.

In the fight against corruption, we echo the sentiments of Theodore Roosevelt's "The Man in the Arena" speech: It is not the critic, who counts, but the one in the arena, striving valiantly despite errors and shortcomings.

We must dare greatly to triumph over corruption and build a better future for Zimbabwe.

  • Ntambalika is a Zimbabwean-born researcher and strategist based between Zimbabwe, South Africa and the United States. His work focuses on the intersection of statecraft, strategy and security. He is a globally-recognised expert and thought leader on cyber security, intelligence, corruption and counter-terrorism, money-laundering and forensic accounting. — [email protected] or +27 64 919 3049 and +1 202 802 6391


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