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Mnangagwa's anti-corruption crusade fizzles out deplorably

by Staff reporter
03 May 2022 at 16:08hrs | Views
HIGH-PROFILE corruption cases from as far back as 2017 are yet to be finalised, almost five years after President Emmerson Mnangagwa promised to decisively tackle graft.

The development also dents the image of the National Prosecuting Authority.

An investigation by The NewsHawks revealed that most of the cases involve former top government officials.

In November 2017, soon after Mnangagwa rose to power on the back of a military a coup, former Finance minister Ignatius Chombo was taken into custody by soldiers.

He was then handed over to the police who charged him with three counts of criminal abuse of office that had happened when he was Local Government minister. The ex-minister was also charged with attempting to defraud the Reserve Bank.

The following month, December 2017, Chombo was re-arrested over a charge of illegally settling people on a piece of land that did not belong to him in Harare.

On 19 December 2017, former Mines minister Walter Chidhakwa was arrested and accused of using his influence to unlawfully grant a tax exemption to a mining firm which then made a huge payment to an organisation linked to him.

He was detained at Rhodsville Police Station in Harare and the case sparked public interest.

However, the case is yet to be concluded at the courts.

Valentine Maponga, spokesperson for legal think-tank Veritas, said the delays in finalisation of the high-profile corruption cases had a negative effect on the justice system.

"Witnesses may die (during the prolonged delays of the cases) and the state's case becomes weak. This gives a chance for the accused people to be acquitted," he said.

In July 2019, former Public service minister Prisca Mupfumira was arrested over a corruption charge over the alleged embezzlement of

US$95 million from the National Social Security Authority (Nssa) pension fund. She was also charged with criminal abuse of office in a case she was accused of using state funds to buy air tickets and pay for the upkeep of her aides to attend her daughter's wedding in South Africa. At the time of her arrest, Mupfumira sat in President Emmerson Mnangagwa's cabinet as Tourism minister.

 She became the first minister in the Mnangagwa cabinet to be arrested over corruption. She was subsequently sacked two weeks after the arrest.

To date, her case is still dragging amid indications the state adduced weak evidence. Joram Gumbo, the current Presidential Affairs minister responsible for monitoring and implementation of government programmes, was arrested in November 2019 over allegations of defrauding the state of US$1 million in an illegal Zimbabwe Airways deal.

The charges were that Gumbo hand-picked the house of his sister, Mavis Gumbo, and turned it into the office of the airline during the time he was Transport minister. He then allegedly caused payment of US$1 million, from the Reserve Bank of Zimbabwe which held the airline's account, to his sister's daughter called Clara Rachel Mudzami as rentals for the property. The case was marked as criminal abuse of office.

When Gumbo pitched up at the Harare magistrate's court, prosecutors did not take him into the court room for initial remand before a magistrate. Instead, he went back home without being formally charged and up to now nothing more has happened on the case.

The first health minister in President Emmerson Mnangagwa's government, Obadiah Moyo, was arrested in June 2020 over a corruption case of abusing US$60 million in a murky deal involving the procurement of personal protective equipment and Covid-19 test kits.

The case also involved businessman Dellish Nguwaya who once posed for photographs with the First Family amid reports he is its runner.

He was arrested but later freed after the prosecutors failed to present a strong case against him.

Moyo is on bail and his case has now dragged on for a long time.

Former Zimbabwe Football Association (Zifa) and Zimbabwe Miners' Federation (ZMF) president Henrietta Rushwaya was arrested in October 2020 at the Robert Gabriel Mugabe International Airport in Harare with six kilogrammes of gold she allegedly attempted to smuggle to Dubai.

The case involved Central Intelligence Organisation operative Raphios Mufandauya, a worker at ZMF Steve Tserayi and Pakistani businessman mogul Ali Mohamad. Initially the state prosecutor consented to bail for Rushwaya, but this was dismissed by the magistrate.

In the layman's understanding, the fact that the gold was withheld as evidence meant the case should have been speedily finalised. But it has not, four months later.

Former African Parliamentarians Network Against Corruption (APNAC) Zimbabwe chapter chairperson Priscilla Misihairabwi-Mushonga, said the trend of the delayed cases is denting the confidence of ordinary citizens in the justice system.

"We are disappointed (in the delays) and it buttresses public perception that this (the arrests) are just about catch-and-release. The high-profile corruption cases must be finalised," she said.

Cases of top local authority officials arrested for alleged corruption have also dragged on at the courts without finalisation. In January 2020, Gokwe town secretary Mellania Mandeya was arrested on allegations involving criminal abuse of office, flouting tender procedures and inflating figures when paying council debts.

 Harare town clerk Hosiah Chisango was arrested in October 2020 over allegations of parcelling out land in a corrupt way. Both cases are, again, yet to be wrapped up and the accused persons are out on bail.

 There was a trend where all the above powerful figures received preferential treatment from the Zimbabwe Prison and Correctional Services. They would come to court from remand prison wearing their own neat clothes but arrive in court aboard a van full of inmates donning prison garb. In the case of Rushwaya, she was never seen coming to court in a prison van during the duration of her stay in remand prison when she fought to get bail.

Her release from remand prison was never captured by media photographers as it happened outside the public eye unlike in cases of other inmates.

Political analyst Ibbo Mandaza acknowledged that there has been a pattern where the powerful figures arrested due to corruption had their cases dragging on at the courts yet ordinary citizens nabbed over smaller crimes were speedily tried.

He asserted that the high-profile cases which drag on at the courts end up fizzling away, a situation that has left citizens very cynical.

"This is exacerbated in a contrasting situation between low-profile cases which are given high-profile attention by the judiciary almost like a pattern. It's now almost predictable that those in high positions or those close to power, nothing happens to them after arrest. One example is of this lady, Henrietta Rushwaya. People are beginning to speculate that nothing will happen to her," Mandaza said.

 While cases of high-profile corruption by politically exposed persons drag on for years, by contrast smaller matters involving non-powerful citizens are speedily wrapped up. Three organisers of the illegal 31 December 2020 New Year's Eve music gig held in Mbare, Harare were arrested on 3 January for violating Covid-19 national lockdown regulations.

 Their case was wrapped up in three days. Harare provincial magistrate Vongai Guwuriro jailed for six months Simbarashe Chanachimwe, Arnold Kamudyariwa (DJ Fantan) and Tafadzwa Kadzimwe (DJ Levelz) over the crime. In January 2020, a Bulawayo man, Prosper Tshuma (26), was arrested for stealing copper cables.

 The case was concluded in eight weeks and he was sentenced to 45 years in prison. In April 2020, Maxwell Ndokanga (39) of Maganga Village under Chief Banga in Shurugwi, was sentenced to 16 years for stealing copper cables worth more than $78 000 at Unki Mine.

The case took two months to be wrapped up as prosecutor Talent Tadenyika put up a strong case before Gweru regional magistrate Phathekile Msipa. Mandaza said the independence of the judicial system is now at stake due to lengthy delays in the finalisation of high-profile corruption cases.

 "The whole question about the independence of the judiciary ever since the elections of 2018 in particular and given what has been happening under the coup, not to mention literally how the coup was ruled to be a legal transition, right through to the present day's allegations of judicial incompetence and bias or sheer pandering to the authorities makes the situation a mess. There is also talk of state security agents determining what magistrates must do. It's actually a mess," Mandaza said.

 He said judicial reforms which happened in Kenya in 2002 after ex-President Daniel Arap Moi was succeeded by Mwai Kibaki must be implemented in Zimbabwe.

 "Many judges were dismissed (in Kenya). I think it is inevitable that such a thing must be done here. It also gives confidence to those judicial officers who are doing their job properly but are now lumped together with the bad apples. I have no doubt that there are very good judges in the system… but there are things that have damaged the reputation of the judiciary right to the top where we have the Chief justice (Luke Malaba) himself," Mandaza said.

The Anti-Corruption Trust of Southern Africa (ACT-SA) tracked some of the high-profile corruption cases that occurred in Gokwe, a town located 228 kilometres away from Harare.

The organisation concluded that the National Prosecuting Authority did not do a good job since the matters are yet to be concluded, three years later, yet it seemed there was overwhelming evidence against the accused office bearers.

 "In 2020, Melania Mandeya (Gokwe town clerk) and Jokonia Nyoni (Gokwe council finance director) were arrested in Gokwe, but the cases appear to have been forgotten. Similarly, Hon. Goden Chanda (Zanu-PF MP for Gokwe Sesame) and a local authority official were also arrested on or about 2019/2020 after they allegedly diverted food aid but their cases appear to have been forgotten," ACT-SA said.

Mandeya and Nyoni were arrested for allegedly flouting tender procedures and criminal abuse of office. Both are out of custody on bail. ACT-SA said these examples show a lack of genuine interest, commitment and the political will to expeditiously prosecute corruption.

"In such instances (of delayed cases) evidence is likely to be tampered with or get lost. The same will happen to the witnesses who might relocate or die, thereby resulting in the miscarriage of the trials, leading to the acquittal of the accused persons over time," ACT-SA said.

 Zimbabwe Peace Project director Jestina Mukoko said by not holding to account corrupt people, the government is promoting a culture of unaccountability and abuse of state resources, citing the US$60 million the government was duped of in the Drax International procurement deal.

 Contacted for comment, former Prosecutor-General Kumbirai Hodzi, who has since retired, said it is incorrect that his office stalled high-profile corruption cases.

He cited convictions of former Midlands minister of state for provincial affairs Jason Machaya, ex-Energy minister Samuel Undenge and former state residences director Douglas Tapfuma as examples of how competent the National Prosecuting Authority has been.

"In all the high-profile corruption cases, the PG's office together with all the other state agencies have acted with exemplary diligence and speed," Hodzi said.

He pointed out that cases of ex-ministers Chombo, Mupfumira and Chidhakwa were delayed because their lawyers made several "frivolous and vexacious" Supreme Court applications challenging the processes at the magistrates' court.

However, constitutional law expert Lovemore Madhuku, who is representing former minister Chombo on cases he was arrested over in 2017, said there is nothing wrong in matters dragging for years at the courts.

 He said it is normal in the legal fraternity. Responding to a question as to whether he has not been deliberately causing delays in Chombo's case, Madhuku said: "The matter is now at the Supreme Court where we are challenging certain things. It will therefore be contemptuous of the Supreme Court for anyone to say we have been making frivolous applications to delay the case. The fact that the Supreme Court has been seized with our matter for a year now means it's an important case."

Hodzi also claimed that the Covid-19 pandemic, which only broke out in March 2020, had slowed down the pace at which cases can move at the courts because of regulations promulgated by the government to deal with it like the national lockdowns.

 He pointed out that the other factor showing his office's determination in prosecuting high-profile corruption cases is the move to extradite former ministers Walter Mzembi, Jonathan Moyo and Saviour Kasukuwere who went into exile in 2017 but are wanted over alleged corruption.

"The fight against corruption is too serious to reduce it to a partisan score marking game. It should be a national effort, given the fact that corruption can become an existential threat to the nation," Hodzi said.

 He also claimed that his office has appointed taskforces to help in speeding up and concluding high-profile corruption cases in future and bring to book other culprits yet to be arrested.

 Prosecutor Michael Reza, who is handling the gold smuggling case involving Rushwaya, defended his office despite public anger that he had not been effective on the matter.

 Reza said the matter was not taken to early trial because it was discovered she was working with several other people hence the need for further investigations. He also stated that the state had initially consented to bail before making a U-turn because "at the time of her arrest and being brought to court, there was no evidence given to the state that she was working with anybody else".

Added Reza: "The current position (on Rushwaya case) is that investigations are at their tail end. As soon as the lockdown ends, we will set the matter for trial. As the state, we are done with listing who is to be jointly charged with who and who is to be charged alone."

 All the former government officials including Rushwaya, who were arrested over high-profile corruption cases, received preferential treatment from the Zimbabwe Prison and Correctional Services (ZPCS).

 For instance, they were exempted from wearing prison garb and would pitch up immaculately dressed in casual wear.

The latest example is that of former labour and social welfare minister Petronela Kagonye who pitched up at the Harare magistrates' court in February 2021 donning designer clothes after having been arrested over corruption-related charges involving the illegal sale of land and abuse of US$400 000 belonging to Nssa.

 In contrast, other inmates would be brought to court in prison garb and sometimes in leg irons. An inmate, who said he shared a remand prison cell with Rushwaya's male co-accused persons in the gold smuggling case, posted on social media plartform Twitter that the three received preferential treatment which became known as Borrowdale Style.

 The guy alleged Tserayi, Mufandauya and Mohamad would be allowed to bring alcohol inside the cell and at times got the privilege to sleep in offices of the prison authorities which are more comfortable.

Job Sikhala, a member of Parliament for Zengeza, told this publication that government critics are particularly maltreated when in remand prison. He said he was personally subjected to "grave maltreatment" during his stay at Chikurubi Maximum Security Prison charged with undermining police this year in January, 2021.

"I was kept in solitary confinement in a cell where people on death roll are detained. I was just opposite the gallows. I don't know what statement they wanted to send to me," he said.

Source - NewsHawks