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Mugabe's office won't fight corruption

05 Feb 2017 at 07:52hrs | Views
Last year's decision to shift the administration of the Zimbabwe Anti-Corruption Commission (Zacc) to the Office of the President and Cabinet (OPC) from the home affairs portfolio amounts to an absurdity. This is so because the reasons given were in themselves absurd. But then, the OPC is ill-suited to house Zacc and the attending legislation, the Anti-Corruption Act.

From its establishment in September 2005, Zacc fell under the home affairs ministry. It was only last year in July that government shifted the administration of the Anti-Corruption Act that regulates Zacc to the OPC through a statutory instrument, SI68 of 2016.

According to the presidential spokesperson, George Charamba, the decision was made after realising that the home affairs ministry was failing to investigate other ministries through Zacc, leaving government with no option but to transfer the commission to the OPC. Before this, Zacc had made numerous attempts to investigate senior government officials, among them cabinet ministers. The probes went nowhere because of extensive interference by members of the executive.

Government's argument justifying moving Zacc to the OPC is just a roll of post truths or, worse, outright falsehoods. To start with, it gives the false impression that when a ministry cannot adequately handle a department, the said department must be moved to the "super ministry", the OPC. Secondly, it implies that the ministry of home affairs was to blame for botched or failed investigations. Thirdly, he wanted us to believe that the OPC has the capacity and motivation to effectively direct Zacc in the fight against corruption.

The purported principle of moving a unit to the OPC simply because the ministry under which it falls lacks the capacity to make it work must be applied across the board. But then, the principle is not being applied consistently. For instance, the Zimbabwe Republic Police (ZRP), which happens to also fall under the home affairs ministry has a lot of blemishes. It can be said, with a high degree of confidence that the police have in the past failed to investigate numerous high offices despite strong prima facie evidence. Yet no-one ever thought of moving the ZRP from home affairs to the OPC.

To accuse the home affairs portfolio of failing to investigate fellow ministries and their officials using the anti-graft outfit is dishonest and wrong. The plain truth is that a multiplicity of factors influenced the failure by Zacc to meaningfully probe various ministers and senior officials. Interference from the presidium, collusion between ministers and high ranking security chiefs, factionalism, mediocrity on the part of the commission, underfunding and subtle threats and victimisation were the major drivers of Zacc's false starts. There is nothing "home affairs" about all these.

For instance, as Zacc was being moved to the OPC last year, Vice-President Phelekezela Mphoko stormed Avondale Police Station in Harare and bullied police officers into releasing the Zimbabwe National Roads Administration (Zinara) acting CEO, Moses Juma, and a board member, Davison Norupiri, who had been arrested for $1 million fraud.

It's only those that are unfamiliar with Zimbabwean ruling elite politics who would expect home affairs minister Ignatius Chombo to yawn out of his cozy bed and rush to the police station to, in turn, order the arrest of Mphoko, his boss, for defeating the course of justice. In any case, considering that the statutory instrument to move Zacc had already come into effect, what did the OPC do with Mphoko's brazen violation of the law?

Take it or leave it, the OPC is the last structure under which Zacc must have been housed because it does not offer alternative solutions to the fight against corruption. That it has failed to act against Mphoko is clear evidence of its lack of will and ill-preparedness to deal with graft and public sector theft. Juma and Norupiri who the police were forced to release have been free since that fateful night when Mphoko charged into the Avondale charge office.

The OPC is mandated with providing strategic policy direction, co-ordination, monitoring, advisory oversight and planning relating to service delivery within government ministries and departments. Heading the OPC, which spans no less than 23 departments and administers more than 10 acts, are the president and his two vice-presidents. This is where the problem starts.

President Robert Mugabe has an unflattering anti-corruption history. He talks big against graft but hardly acts. It has been like that for a long time. Even though he established a leadership code in the 1980s, cases of his lieutenants dipping their big fingers into the cookie jar are too numerous to mention. Notable among them, though, are the looting of the war victims compensation fund from 1997, the 1988 Willowgate that saw the "chefs" looting a subsidised government vehicle scheme, and, recently the pillage of the Marange diamonds.

While he agreed to naming and shaming of Willowgate culprits and instituting a commission of inquiry, there was hardly any redress to talk about because all of them were pardoned. None of the high ranking officials who participated in looting the Marange diamonds has been arrested and a government initiated audit into how the gem business was run is now in limbo.

Augustine Chihuri, who claimed 20% disability and got a hefty payout from the fund, is still serving as the commissioner general, some 20 years after the claim. Some of the top ranking officials who were named in various cases of fraud were dismissed and then recalled into public office. There would be little wonder, therefore, that Mphoko got away without as much as a reprimand for what he did at Avondale Police Station.

There is no evidence that the OPC is adequately manned to ensure that Zacc properly performs its functions. The chief secretary, Misheck Sibanda and his three deputies have not demonstrated a history of fighting corruption. Neither do they have any history of independent thinking and acting. Merely placing Zacc under the OPC will muzzle the commissioners. They are bound to investigate only the cases that the OPC approves or recommends. Given that cases of corruption tend to be intricate and have high chances of tracking up to the big wigs, that leaves the commission with very little to do.

Tawanda Majoni is the national coordinator at Information for Development Trust (IDT), a non-profit organisation promoting access to information on transparency and accountability in the public and private sectors, and can be contacted on majonitt@gmail.com.

Source - the standard
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