African countries must take a leaf from China on corruption

Corruption is a cancer in public administration and governance.

A MAJORITY of African countries have reported corruption as a cancer in public administration and governance, and have policies aimed at defeating the scourge.

Zimbabwe, for example, has consistently declared "zero tolerance" on corruption but has not recorded convincing results.

Many African governments' declarations have not yielded fruit, and endemic corruption continues to levy immense cost to economies leading the International Monetary Fund to declare that "...corruption tends to undermine economic growth, behaving more like sand than oil in the economic engine".

The World Bank stated in a briefing last year that it considered "corruption a major challenge to its twin goals of ending extreme poverty by 2030 and boosting shared prosperity for the poorest 40 percent of people in developing countries."

According to the global institution, corruption has a disproportionate impact on the poor and most vulnerable, increasing costs and reducing access to services, including health, education and justice.

The World Bank has found that corruption in the procurement of drugs and medical equipment drives up costs and can lead to sub-standard or harmful products.

On the other hand, unofficial payments for services can have a particularly pernicious effect on poor people.

These are a few of the examples of consequences of corruption — and African governments, including Zimbabwe, are yet to address the issue with finality, with most accused of paying lip service to the practice.

Taking a leaf from China

A key consequence of corruption is raising the cost of doing business on the continent as money meant for investments gets diverted to individuals and corrupt systems, while rent seeking behaviour by officials — from big to petty offices — may delay and derail investments.

As countries such as Zimbabwe aim to attract more capital from China, it is crucial to address corruption so that benefits may accrue to the people.

There is thus a need for effectively tackling corruption, and taking lessons from China which, under President Xi Jinping, has set the bar high in seeking to eradicate corruption in over a decade.

Incidentally, early this year Xi addressed the third plenary session of the 20th CPC Central Commission for Discipline Inspection, the Party's top disciplinary body and laid out what could be the next phase of the important task of fighting corruption as a governance issue as well as complex social, economic and political phenomenon.

Xi stressed that, in order to advance the anti-corruption campaign in the new era, continuous efforts should be made to eliminate the breeding grounds and conditions for corruption.

He called for coordinated actions to ensure that officials do not have the audacity, opportunity or desire to become corrupt, as well as persistent efforts to expand the scale and extent of anti-corruption campaigns, and regular and long-term measures to prevent and curb corruption.

Xi underlined the importance of enhancing the Party's centralised, unified leadership in the fight against corruption.

He also stressed the importance of maintaining a tough stance against corruption and said that in the continued grave and complex situation, there is no possibility of stopping, slackening or compromising the anti-corruption campaign.

Combating corruption in the form of collusion between officials and businesspeople should be the priority, Xi said, urging efforts to crack down resolutely on the profit-driven abuse of power and prevent various interest and power groups from infiltrating the political arena.

Xi called for greater efforts to rectify corruption in the finance, state-owned enterprise, energy, medicine and infrastructure project sectors, as well as efforts to punish graft occurring on people's doorsteps.

"But the situation remains grave and complex," Xi is quoted as saying.

"We should be fully aware of new developments in the fight against corruption and the breeding grounds and conditions for corruption," Xi said, urging more efforts to win the "tough and protracted battle."

Flies and ants

A key departure point for Xi, famed for framing the corruption fight as one against "tigers and flies" a decade ago, is how the focus is now zooming in on "flies and ants," referencing corruption at lower levels of society and the ruling Party.

The narrowed-down focus involves a specific focus on addressing industry-specific, systemic and regional corruption, as well as seeking targeted rectification, eliminate "petty" or "micro" corruption at the grassroots level, investigate both bribe givers and takers, reinforce a new era of integrity and eradicate the conditions that brew corruption.

Experts have noted that this will eradicate corruption in areas where power, funds and resources are concentrated, which include financing, State-owned enterprises, the legal system, and industries like grain procurement and sales.

It is argued that eliminating and deterring corruption, including swatting "flies and ants" that people have to deal with everyday, will remove corruption phenomenon as a significant hazard to that harm the tangible interests of the public, corroding people's sense of accomplishment, and squandering trust in the Party and government.

Commenting on the drive, Wu Jianxiong, director of the China Anti-Corruption Judicial Research Center, China Against Corruption Law Association and dean of the Discipline Inspection Institute, Xiangtan University, said in an article: "The overarching direction for China's anti-corruption drive in 2024 is to 'sustain efforts and deepen the struggle', reinforce deterrence against corruption, and treat corruption-prone areas as breakthrough points to win the long, arduous battle against corruption...This comprehensive approach is aimed at preventing, prohibiting and discouraging corruption, and achieving more and better results."

Conclusions and recommendations

It is in the interests of Zimbabwe to eradicate corruption as a measure of good governance, as well as obligations under the United Nations Convention against Corruption.

The United Nations Convention against Corruption is the only legally binding universal anti-corruption instrument, and Zimbabwe ratified it in 2004 and it became effective in 2007.

The Convention's far-reaching approach and the mandatory character of many of its provisions make it a unique tool for developing a comprehensive response to corruption.

The Convention covers five main areas: preventive measures, criminalization and law enforcement, international cooperation, asset recovery, and technical assistance and information exchange.

The Convention covers many different forms of corruption, such as bribery, trading in influence, abuse of functions, and various acts of corruption in the private sector. A highlight of the Convention is the inclusion of a specific chapter on asset recovery, aimed at returning assets to their rightful owners, including countries from which they had been taken illicitly.

Zimbabwe is also a member of the Eastern and Southern Africa Anti-Money Laundering Group (ESAAMLG), the Southern African Development Community (SADC), the Asset Recovery Inter-Agency Network of Southern Africa (Arinsa), Interpol, and the Southern African Regional Police Chiefs Cooperation Organisation

(SARPCCO). Zacc is a member of the Southern African Forum against Corruption (Safac), the International Association of Anti-Corruption Authorities (IAACA, and the African Association of Anti-Corruption Authorities (AACA).

The country has claimed significant inroads into the fight against corruption, including establishing an independent commission, the Zimbabwe Anti-Corruption Commission (Zacc) which in the past year has successfully prosecuted some notable corruption cases and recovered looted assets. It is in the interest of the country to deepen this fight, and especially protect the economic interests of allies such as China whose investments in the country continue to be derailed by corruption at various levels. Crimes related to corruption include: bribery and trading in influence, money laundering, concealment, embezzlement, abuse of office, obstruction of justice, participation and attempt and so forth.

Laws and provisions that are in place to combat corruption, and these need to be implemented diligently. 

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