editorialBy Nevanji Madanhire
A joke did the rounds a year ago about how President Robert Mugabe summoned the Services Chiefs to State House to find out how they were doing and what could be done to boost the morale of the uniformed forces.
The Commander of the Defence Forces intimated that salaries were low and his guys were badly demoralised; they needed something to cheer them up, such as an annual bonus.
The Commissioner of Prisons said almost the same adding his guys had done a good job keeping all those MDC malcontents locked up with the lice. A festive season bonus would just do the trick, he said.
But Police Commissioner-General Augustine Chihuri remained eerily silent.
The Old Man in his wry humour asked him: "Ko vaChihuri, ndeipi?" (What have you got to say for your guys, Chihuri?) Upon which the top policeman cleared his throat and said: "Don't worry Chef, my guys know what they gotta do."
Now the cat is finally out of the bag.
"Mapurisa, mapurisa, mapurisa," boomed Mugabe at the official opening of the Zanu PF conference in Gweru on Friday.
When a word of reprimand is repeated thrice, the gravity of the offence becomes clear.
Mugabe described how police roadblocks are set up so as to extort money from the motoring public, saying some drivers were asked to pay as much as US$200 as a bribe to policemen for imagined vehicle defects.
He told the police: "We want you to be straightforward people. You are representatives not only of government, but of the people as a whole."
It was high time.
Surveys have shown that the Zimbabwe Republic Police is the most corrupt police force in the region. The Anti-Corruption Trust of Southern Africa only last week reported on how Zimbabwean traffic police officers have become as brazen as to ask for bribes in public.
The report says some policemen had become inexplicably stinking rich overnight. They own fleets of omnibuses and houses in suburbs normally deemed to be for the very rich.
Disturbingly, the officers, the report says, share the proceeds of their nefarious activities with their superiors back at their Head Office. Those who choose not to, are reportedly victimised by being transferred to less lucrative posts.
Last week The Standard carried a story about how one of our senior reporters nearly perished in an accident because the driver became reckless due to the frustration of having to pay bribes at each and every roadblock, and there are many on the roads. Motorists are amazed there are often as many as four roadblocks on the 30km stretch between Harare city centre and Ziko Township in Seke, each with fresh demands for bribes!
But the police are hardly the only corrupt institution in the country.
Mugabe also named the Zimbabwe Revenue Authority (Zimra) but there are many others.
Interestingly, for the first time he admitted some of his ministers are also very corrupt. It has been said that the president's failure to fight corruption will blight his legacy when history is finally written. He, for instance, didn't have to wait for former South African president Thabo Mbeki to tell him that his ministers demanded bribes from prospective investors.
He should, a long time ago, have asked himself where the now very rich members of his team acquired their wealth. It is common knowledge that some of them are richer than whole cities. Some huge projects mushrooming all over the country should surely have raised his eyebrows. What about the huge acquisitions by certain individuals such as private jets and banks, shouldn't they be probed a bit to prove their cleanliness?
On the latest Transparency International (TI) Corruption Perception Index, Zimbabwe was ranked 163 out of the 176 countries surveyed; that should make every Zimbabwean bow his head in shame. The TI survey says corruption is on the increase in the education, health and mining sectors.
In the education sectors, needy children are denied the financial assistance meant for them which is diverted to the rich. In the health sector, nurses are denying people living with HIV and Aids anti-retroviral treatment selling the drugs on the open market instead. And, in the mining sector licenses are granted only to those that would have paid kickbacks.
The education and health sector examples illustrate how evil corruption can be; when a nurse watches a supposed legitimate beneficiary of ARV drugs writhing on the floor dying but diverts that person's drugs to someone else who can afford to pay for the same drugs in drugstores, that surely is an act of evil. The same applies when an official leaves an orphan without education while giving the money to the child of a rich relative.
But what effect does corruption or the perception of it have on a country?
Corruption generally makes doing legitimate business more expensive. If, for example, one has to pay a whole chain of Zimra officials in order to land capital equipment, it becomes prohibitively expensive to set up new factories or replace obsolete equipment. In the end industry is adversely affected and the ripple effects are widespread.
Foreign investors generally shun countries that are corrupt or even just perceived to be corrupt.
China, the world's second largest economy, fared poorly on the latest corruption perception index. If not put under control, corruption might scuttle its standing in the world. That is why its new leadership has spoken loudly against corruption during its recent congress.
Despite its controversial indigenisation policies, Zanu PF is overly aware of the importance of foreign investment, hence President Mugabe dwelt significantly on the corruption issue.
But in bemoaning the lack of whistle-blowers, he might be viewed as not being serious about his pronouncements. The state has at its disposal many organs that can sniff out corruption. These include the Anti-Corruption Commission of Zimbabwe (ACCZ), the National Economic Conduct Inspectorate (NECI) and most importantly the Central Intelligence Organisation (CIO).
Corruption is a serious national security issue. What if a minister sells our strategic mines to the enemy simply because he has been given generous kickbacks? Shouldn't the institutions above know about this? Or, are these institutions corrupt too?
The fact that President Mugabe has for the first time spoken so strongly against high-level corruption is the opening of a new chapter. But is he going to walk the talk?