17 June 2019

Zimbabwe: Wealth Bill Critical to End Scourge of Corruption

The Micro Finance Bill (MFB), which when enacted into law will allow for investigation and seizure of wealth from individuals suspected to have surreptitiously amassed riches, is a noble cause being pushed by Government.

Such a law was long overdue.

For decades, the country has been at the mercy of corrupt officials who used their political muscle to siphon of billions of dollars out of the country. The Bill, together with the enactment of other commercial laws, will improve accountability, efficiency and prevention of corruption across all sectors.

The World Bank Group considers 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.

In addition, reducing corruption is at the heart of the Sustainable Development Goals and achieving the ambitious targets set for Financing for Development.

The Procurement Regulatory Act, Public Entities and Corporate Governance Act, Money Laundering and Proceeds of Crime Amendment Bill and the Zimbabwe Investment Development Agency Bill are some of the laws expected to shape the country's economy.

Oftentimes, money from the most treasurable Zimbabwean raw materials and precious minerals has been swindled through corrupt deals involving both locals and foreigners.

Additionally, significant sums of foreign aid and humanitarian donations have been embezzled by influential people and used to amass wealth in the form of estates and luxurious cars.

For instance, the country has no tangible benefits from the Chiadzwa diamonds, attesting to the high level of corruption that existed in Zimbabwe.

When fully implemented, the FMB should start digging for anyone who benefited from the looting at the diamond fields and any other corrupt dealings in years gone by.

Introduction of the MFB is an exception as there is an ever-growing public awareness about the presence of foreign wealth in the country's economy (particularly among Members of Parliament and company bosses) and the risks that some of this wealth may represent the proceeds of corruption or other crimes.

The Government of Zimbabwe, through the MFB, is sending a clear message to the oligarchs of the world that the country is prepared to take tough measures against such illicit dealings which are costing the country billions.

It is certainly true that the introduction of MFB is a major breakthrough by the Government in fighting corruption and preventing money from leaving the country.

The concept of "unexplained wealth'" though familiar in other jurisdictions, is novel.

Until now, under the Presidential Powers (Temporary Measures) Regulations, anything to do with unexplained wealth whereupon application to the judge, the police can get an order compelling someone to explain where he/sahe got his/her her wealth and if that person fails to do so, the ill-gotten worth will be forfeited.

The new provisions mean that the High Court will be able to order a person to explain within a specified period what interest they have in specified property, and how they acquired it.

Of importance to note is that the order itself doesn't require any criminal charges to be filed, and it is similar to a search warrant.

MFB comes at the right time as most investors are avoiding doing business in the country as they face high-level corruption in the form of nepotism, patronage and abuse of power, as well as petty bribery and extortion.

The Bill, with other progressive commercial laws that allow forfeiture of ill-gotten wealth, is welcome among the poor Zimbabweans who are always at the mercy of corrupt officials, as it will bring transparency and accountability towards the achievement of sustainable economic recovery.

It is important to the country because it will target persons who find creative ways to conceal the proceeds of crime.

In other countries, civil asset recovery has been used as a mechanism to address organised crime and it deals with the recovery of wealth accrued by criminals.

Experts say it is essentially a gateway to a civil recovery order, which allows the authorities to confiscate property.

The court can also issue an interim freeze order to halt property from being sold or transferred by the owner while they investigate the source of the person's wealth.

President Mnangagwa said the country should not tire in fighting corruption, as it is currently deep-seated in most State institutions such as the police, National Prosecuting Authority (NPA) and the judiciary.

Zimbabwe is ranked 160th out of 175 countries according to the 2018 Corruption Perceptions Index as compiled by Transparency International.

Corruption adversely affects economic development and with the "Zimbabwe is Open for Business" mantra it is imperative that the country escalates its efforts in the fight against corruption.

On top of the MFB, the country also needs to encourage citizenry engagement in the fight against corruption.

Freedom of expression is key in this regard.

In some countries such as South Africa, social media has played a big role in exposing corruption and keeping the public discourse around corruption alive, Zimbabwe should learn from its southern neighbour to fight and expose ill-gotten wealth.

To end corruption, which is the main driver of ill-gotten wealth, there is need for improved access to information, especially in fiscal transparency.

Fiscal transparency will reduce corruption vulnerabilities in the management of public funds and increase the likelihood that those who do so will be held to account.

It is important, especially when enforcing the MFB, and the fight against corruption, money laundering and tax evasion, which have proved difficult to investigate.

Corruption erodes trust in Government and undermines the social contract.

Corruption impedes investment, with consequent effects on growth and jobs.

Countries capable of confronting corruption use their human and financial resources more efficiently, attract more investment, and grow more rapidly.

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