11 January 2018

Zimbabwe: Stop Trivialising Corruption

editorial

PRESIDENT Emmerson Mnangagwa's new administration has pledged to fight corruption without fear or favour. If followed through, this would be a welcome break from former President Robert Mugabe's deleteriously permissive attitude towards graft.

It is a truism that politicians ought to be judged on what they do, not what they say. Even Mugabe often spoke out against corruption even as his actions or inaction enabled it.

The weeks following Mnangagwa's inauguration have seen several high-profile arrests, including no less than seven former ministers who served under Mugabe. This unprecedented swoop on the powerful would be commendable if it did not hint at a factional approach to fighting corruption.

Only the credulous would be persuaded to believe that graft followed a factional fault-line in Mugabe's corruption-drenched government.

Selective prosecution, on factional lines, undermines efforts to deal with a scourge which costs Zimbabwe an estimated $1 billion annually, according to Transparency International.

It also breeds impunity by emboldening those who believe they are in the "right basket", to appropriate Mugabe's factional parlance.

Worst of all, it trivialises the fight against corruption by reducing it to point-scoring and settling political scores.

Corruption has become pervasive in virtually all spheres of Zimbabwean society, even though it is quite rife in key institutions of government, such as the police and judiciary.

The new administration has an opportunity to engender a radical shift in the attitude towards graft at all levels of our society, by tackling this disease in a robust and impartial manner.

Anything less than that will send the unwanted signal to the public that it is business as usual. This would be detrimental because the public's attitude towards corruption is an important factor in combating graft.

We will remain unconvinced by government's anti-corruption stance until the Mnangagwa administration moves to tackle high profile cases involving Marange diamond revenue abuse, farm equipment and input abuse -- for which taxpayers are picking up a $1 billion tab -- municipal land allocations, infrastructure projects such as the Harare airport road deal as well as flagrant looting of funds at almost every parastatal, highlighted annually by the Auditor General.

We also remain unconvinced that Zimbabwe, currently, has the requisite institutions to effectively deal with corruption. The Zimbabwe Anti-Corruption Commission has itself faced charges of corruption against its senior staff.

The fitness of some of its commissioners for office is questionable, given their openly partisan conduct.

Other key institutions, the police and prosecution authority, have also not distinguished themselves in handling economic crimes, whose complexities often appear to be beyond them.

All these challenges hinder an effective fight to root out corruption.

But the biggest own goal would be a half-hearted, selective approach to holding the corrupt to account, because it undermines and trivialises what ought to be a solemn cause which should be beyond reproach.

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