22 March 2018

Zimbabwe Needs to Plug Illicit Financial Flows

opinion

The long-awaited list of those who externalised funds from Zimbabwe came out on Monday. Last December, President Mnangagwa gave a three-month grace period for those who took money out of Zimbabwe to return it through the RBZ with no questions asked.

The move was one aimed at not only recovering funds that had illicitly flowed out of the country, but also one which portrayed the administration as tough on corruption.

No one knew what to expect once the process had ended, but many anticipated the list and speculated on who would be on it.

After the three months lapsed at the end of February, the deadline was extended to March 19, 2018.

This time around, mercy was not granted and the names of 1 844 externalisers was published.

The list was separated into three categories, namely "Funds externalised through non-repatriation of export proceeds", "Funds externalised through payment of goods not received in Zimbabwe" and "Funds externalised to foreign banks in cash or under spurious transactions".

According to the document, some $1,4 billion left the country through companies and individuals, primarily in mining, agriculture, manufacturing and cross border freight sectors.

So far, the RBZ has managed to recover $591,1 million of the total amount, leaving $826,5 million outstanding.

The immediate online public reaction to the list was interesting. First, were those surprised by the names that appeared and more so those that did not.

A majority of those listed under Categories I and II were businesses and not individuals.

In Category III, there was a substantial number of Chinese people, whose destination of funds externalised was China.

Conspicuously missing from the list were names of local business people and politicians, who are rumoured to be corrupt.

The logical explanation is that if any of them did externalise any funds, they could be part of those that returned the $591,1 million.

What is perhaps more likely is that some of the businesses are owned by some of these local individuals and so their names are not on the list, but at the Deeds Office.

This is an opportunity for the media to take charge.

A proper investigation into the names on the list is needed.

Who owns the different businesses? How did they manage to move funds offshore?

What networks and patterns are there in the main industries highlighted?

What other activities are the businesses or their owners involved in and how do these relate to the State and its laws?

The media should take a methodological approach to their investigations and be patient to ensure they do a comprehensive job.

The list is the first part of the puzzle and there is a lot that can be learnt from it.

A second response from the public was that rather than revealing corruption, the list was more of those who failed to acquit their Bills of Entry, CD1 and CD3 forms.

These are customs and RBZ forms that support foreign payments to confirm that goods or funds were received from those transactions.

Some have argued, it is likely that the businesses listed simply failed to present their evidence of "goods received" and were not illicitly moving funds to offshore locations.

If this is the case, then there is a problem with the system of processing these documents and both the businesses and the regulatory authorities need to find a way to fix it.

Businesses should raise any problems they are facing and the RBZ should investigate where the shortcomings are and how to better the process for all parties.

A third reaction that came following the publication of the list, and one the Government should consider closely, is the question what happens next?

In the statement accompanying the published names, President Mnangagwa said: "The Reserve Bank of Zimbabwe is ready to process transactions where the concerned parties can show proof of declaration and/or repatriation of funds without prejudice given that the burden of proof lies with the concerned parties.

"This is despite the fact that ample time was granted under the amnesty period to account and repatriate all externalised funds."

From this, it seems that after all, there shall be no penalty for those who now choose to comply with the RBZ and return whatever funds they had externalised.

It is important to recover all the money that has left the country unduly, but it is even more important for there to be measures in place and deterrents to ensure that it does not happen again.

To that effect, a few questions need to be asked of the Government.

What punitive measures will they take against those who failed to meet the deadline?

How is the Government going to manage the situation of illicit flows from the country going forward?

Will we see another list being published this time next year if the practice continues or will there be mechanisms to not only stop the flow, but also legal measures in place to deal with offenders?

At the moment there is quite a bit of uncertainty and this is not good.

When President Mnangagwa announced last year that he would be exposing those who externalised money from Zimbabwe, he raised the public's expectation on the issue of anti-corruption.

The naughty list published on Monday, while welcome, is inadequate, especially when one does not see offenders being punished or how they will be dealt with or anything done to prevent this from happening again.

The Government needs to plan and better manage people's expectations. This comes with providing adequate information as to their operations and making people understand their processes.

In terms of planning, there needs to be a clear framework that deals with corruption and one that does not discriminate against individuals. Corruption is a salient issue and public opinion on how the Government handles it is important.

Over the last few years, the Zimbabwe Anti-Corruption Commission (ZACC) has left a lot to be desired in the fight against the practice.

This is yet another area for the Government to examine and make changes that better aid its anti-corruption efforts.

While corruption and the means of curbing it are complex, now is the time to evaluate the systems, laws and institutions that deal with this issue.

As Zimbabwe markets itself as open for business, this is one of the critical issues to be dealt with to boost investor confidence, but more importantly, to protect the interests of Zimbabwean citizens.

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