31 January 2014

Zimbabwe: Looting Spree - Little Hope for Action

editorial

SINCE news of extravagant executive salaries at insolvent state broadcaster Zimbabwe Broadcasting Corporation (ZBC) broke, reports of scandalous salaries and systematic looting at other state entities have been coming thick and fast, especially over the past week or so.

The shocking levels of sleaze wrought by unbridled greed and a sense of entitlement have consistently made headlines, while the stratospheric salaries of as much as US$230 000 per month have staggered struggling Zimbabweans who mostly subsist on less than US$2 per day.

As our sister paper NewsDay aptly put it, with his monthly salary of US$230 000 Premier Service Medical Aid Society (Psmas) CEO Cuthbert Dube could afford to pay 500 teachers every month (at US$500 each); purchase 57 Toyota Vitz/Honda Fits every month (US$4 000 from Japan); pay for 75 000 soccer fans at the National Sports Stadium at US$3 each and buy 10 houses in Harare's high-density suburbs at US$23 000 each.

The furore over salaries has been of such magnitude as to rouse government -- ever long on talk, but woefully short on action -- out of its deep slumber vis-à-vis endemic corruption. Without a hint of irony, government is now issuing threats that those found guilty of abusing ZBC funds or assets over the past four years will face the full wrath of the law.

Elsewhere, Finance minister Patrick Chinamasa told parliamentarians the Office of the President and Cabinet would investigate remunerations of parastatal bosses so as "to formulate what to do with those who have been paying themselves above reasonable levels of remuneration".

Drawing on past experience, only the most gullible of Zimbabweans, and there can't be many of those left, expect government to institute a full probe and take stern action against all culprits, for that would entail catching the politically-connected big fish long perceived as untouchable.

In any case, since President Robert Mugabe railed against corruption at the official opening of parliament last September, going to the extent of implicating Zimbabwe Mining Development Corporation chief Godwills Masimirembwa by name, the long wait for action continues amid suspicion his arrest could open a can of worms that would expose political bigwigs.

In any case, allegations of shocking executive salaries and perks were raised during the days of the unity government when former state enterprises minister Gorden Moyo tried futilely to stop the looting and bleeding of the parastatals, as was the chorus of pleas for government to bring accountability to diamond mining operations and revenues.

Besides, the parastatal sleaze can be viewed as microcosmic of the wider national patronage system that the ruling Zanu PF thrives on to keep the loyalty of key members despite a calamitous economic record.

Until such a time government acts without fear or favour, Zimbabweans will remain convinced it is up to its smoke and mirrors trick yet again. This is discernable in its feeble attempts to distance itself from the parastatal executives' perks and corruption scandal.

As civil society organisations have rightly argued, it is practically impossible for government to be oblivious of the goings-on at state enterprises since permanent secretaries sit on the boards of these institutions, and report to the minister.

Thus, merely closing the stable door after the horse has bolted, something government is wont to do, will not suffice. This rot clearly calls for a paradigm shift from the laissez faire attitude at parastatals to that underpinned by performance appraisal, accountability and supervision. The sort being advocated by Local Government minister Ignatius Chombo, who is set to start issuing year-long performance-based contracts for town clerks warning those who fail to perform would not have their contracts renewed.

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