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Reflections on current state of corruption in Zimbabwe

IT IS now nine months after the global movement against Corruption, Transparency International launched the Corruption Perception Index (CPI) for 2021 and four months after the local chapter Transparency International Zimbabwe (TIZ) launched the National Bribe Payers Index (NBPI).

Whereas the CPI scores and ranks countries based on how corrupt a country’s public sector is perceived to be by experts and business executives, the NBPI captures people’s perceptions and lived experiences on corruption in their day to day interactions with public sector institutions in Zimbabwe.

The NBPI was themed on the dynamics of bribery within Zimbabwe's public sector. These two significant reports provide an overview of public sector corruption in Zimbabwe from both an insider and outsider perspective.  The CPI and the NBPI, therefore, complement each other and should be considered jointly. 

Where the CPI is concerned, it should be worrying for Zimbabweans to be reminded that Zimbabwe had a score of 23 out of 100. For clarity’s sake, on a scale of zero to one hundred (0-100) a country with a score of 0 is considered to be the most corrupt, and that with a score of 100 is regarded as clean or graft free.

The fact that Zimbabwe’s ranking is below the Sub-Saharan average of 33 out of 100; and that the score dropped by a point from 24 out of 100 in 2020, means that the fight against corruption should be given primacy on the national agenda. Indeed, the scourge of corruption has reached endemic levels in the country, leaving some observers to assert that it is now part of the “DNA” of our society.

Over and above the fancy indices used by corruption researchers above, the severity of corruption in Zimbabwe is best understood from a human rights perspective.

This idea was aptly captured in the 2021 CPI theme, which was corruption, human rights and democracy bringing focus on the human impacts of corruption.

The theme confirms that corruption disproportionately affects the poor, disenfranchised, marginalised and vulnerable groups in society as resources destined for public service delivery are diverted for private gain. 

Closely linked to this, the NBPI established that public sector corruption continues to undermine public service delivery and the attainment of basic human rights enshrined in the constitution.

The release of corruption research findings the world over continues to generate rigorous debate in a “clash of perspectives” on the matter.

One recurring theme is the debate regarding the methodological framing of the CPI with some government officials challenging the use of perceptions rather than actual incidences in measuring corruption.

It is important to understand that corruption generally comprises illegal activities, which are therefore deliberately hidden from public view — only coming to light through whistleblowing, investigations or prosecutions.

Whilst researchers from academia, civil society and governments have made advances in terms of objectively measuring corruption in specific sectors, to date there is no indicator which measures objective national levels of corruption directly and exhaustively.

The sources and surveys, which make up the CPI, ask their respondents questions which are based on carefully designed and calibrated questionnaires.

The CPI contains informed views of relevant stakeholders, which generally correlate highly with objective indicators, such as citizen experiences with bribery as captured by the Global Corruption Barometer (GPB) and the NBPI.

Despite the people’s views of the CPI, there is general consensus amongst state and non-state actors that there is rampant corruption in Zimbabwe.

Why else would the issue be put on the national agenda, with the President himself proclaiming the mantra of “zero tolerance to corruption”. Having said that, the question remains whether current interventions have or are yielding any positive results.

There is no “mischief” in the focus on the public sector given its role as legitimate and designated custodian of public resources and provider of the related public goods  and services.

The deprivation of citizens’ right to health dealt a severe blow when Covid-19 ravaged all societies around the world.

The loss of lives from the pandemic was escalated mainly in those societies where corruption had already eaten into public coffers leaving the state unprepared; or where the opportunity to launch massive public health programmes in mitigation opened unprecedented opportunities for corrupt officials and service providers to line their pockets by exploiting loopholes in archaic public procurement systems, compromising the response mechanisms. 

This was not surprising given the scale of resources made available by multilateral finance and aid institutions, philanthropists and the private sector around the world.

Indeed, scandals like Draxgate occurred at different levels in countries around the world. 

The inaction on the recommendations of the Auditor-General’s report on the misuse and abuse of Covid-19 funds has eroded public trust on the oversight and anti-corruption institutions.

Ongoing trends raise serious concern among observers over the commitment of public agencies charged with leading the anti-corruption fight, as well as the integrity of officials elected to oversight institutions, and a few examples are noteworthy.

This year, a Commissioner of the Zimbabwe Anti-Corruption Commission (Zacc) and the Master of the High Court were charged on allegations of corruption.

On the other hand, there are serving members of parliament under investigation on allegations of corruption.  The case of Prisca Mupfumira and lately Mayor Wadyajena are examples, which have put the institution of parliament into disrepute.

More recent is the approval of two transactions involving the sale of laptops to the Parliament of Zimbabwe at highly inflated prices in circumstances suggesting interference and compromising of public procurement laws and regulations.

The slow pace in dealing with high profile corruption cases has further frustrated the public, leading to “catch and release” conundrum.

Some corruption cases have suspiciously been concluded whilst others have been dragging in courts for several years. Citizens deserve an explanation and regular updates from the responsible anti-corruption agencies.

Meanwhile, brave anti-corruption whistleblowers have been persecuted for raising public awareness over high-profile cases of corruption, whilst the perpetrators are scot-free.

In the face of such daunting challenges, the role of citizens in the fight against corruption should not be overemphasised, and their protection from retribution must be prioritised and guaranteed.

Chikumbu is the current executive director of Transparency International Zimbabwe, which is part of a global movement against corruption. He is a development economist with several years of experience in development work with a bias towards anti-corruption, transparency, accountability and integrity, public procurement, domestic resource mobilisation, illicit financial flows, extractive industries, debt management, human rights-based approaches and participatory development.

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