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Why Mnangagwa's anti-corruption crusade is fast-losing steam

28 Apr 2019 at 08:27hrs | Views
The Judicial Service Commission (JSC) launched the special anti-corruption courts with fanfare slightly more than a year ago, but a cocktail of challenges is retarding the prosecution of graft-accused suspects.

Chief Justice Luke Malaba, while opening the 2018 legal year in January last year, announced the judiciary would open the specialised courts throughout the country to prosecute corrupt individuals.

Two months down the line, five such courts - three at the Harare Magistrates' Court and two at Bulawayo's West Commonage Magistrates' Court - were announced to have started operating under the supervision of the chief magistrate and, below him, 12 magistrates, while promises were made to get more operational in Zimbabwe's 10 provinces.

Among the senior regional magistrates who have undergone special training to handle corruption cases, investigations revealed, are Hoseah Mujaya, Elijah Makomo, Estere Chivasa and Nyasha Vitorini.

So far the prosecutors who have handled the matters using authority from the Prosecutor-General's Office include Brian Vito, Zivanai Macharaga, Michael Chakandida, Tapiwa Godzi and Vernanda Munyoro.  

The National Prosecuting Authority (NPA) has also hired senior lawyers to prosecute matters in the specialised courts.

Instead of the five courts slated for Bulawayo and Harare, however, only two are operational 13 months after, The Standard - working in collaboration with Information for Development Trust - found out.

And there are no indications more will be opened any time soon even though the JSC said plans were underway to spread the specialised trial rooms to the major cities of Mutare, Gweru and Masvingo.

The decision to set up the specialised courts, JSC secretary Walter Chikwanha told this publication, was an administrative move to fight graft - which is so rampant that Transparency International and other perception indices have lumped Zimbabwe among the 20 most corrupt countries in the world for a long time - without going through the ordinary roll.

The idea of specialised courts did not start when President Emmerson Mnangagwa took over power from Robert Mugabe through a military-led coup in November 2017, but when the current head of State was Justice minister, Chidhakwa said.

"The starting point of setting up the anti-corruption courts was sometime back when the current president was still minister of Justice, Legal and Parliamentary Affairs," he said.

"We came up with a protocol following adequate consultations with other stakeholders who are involved in the administration of justice such as the police, the National Prosecuting Authority and the Zimbabwe Anti-Corruption Commission."

According to Chikwanha, corruption cases are getting priority for processing in the courts that have received a facelift and have been furnished with computers, recording gadgets, air-conditioners and new furniture, courtesy of funding from the European Union and the International Commission of Jurists.

Available statistics show that, by December last year, the anti-corruption courts had recorded a total of 52 cases, of which 23 were deliberated upon and completed, while 29 remained pending and were at various stages of trial.

The special courts started off on a high note and recorded convictions in several high-profile cases, but most of these successes were confined to Harare.

Former Energy minister Samuel Undenge was tried in Harare, convicted and sentenced to an effective two-and-a-half years' imprisonment for criminal abuse of office after he wrote a letter directing the Zimbabwe Power Company (ZPC) to engage a private company Fruitful Communications Company, to provide public relations services to the power utility without following due processes.

Fruitful Communications directors Psychology Maziwisa and ex-Zimbabwe Broadcasting Corporation news anchor Oscar Pambuka were jailed for an effective three and half years each in the same case for duping ZPC of over $12 000.

Another conviction by the Harare court was the former acting chief executive officer of the Zimbabwe National Road Administration (Zinara), Moses Julius Juma, who, after escaping prosecution for a long time under former president Robert Mugabe's government, was slapped with a two-year jail term when he was found guilty of criminal abuse of office by engaging a private company, Tax Management Services, without going to tender.

Two Zimbabwe Revenue Authority employees, Tendai Hombiro and Moses Nyango, were also sentenced to 36 months' imprisonment each after they were convicted of undercharging goods belonging to the wife of Energy minister Joram Gumbo, Eristinah, at Robert Gabriel Mugabe International Airport.

Self-styled prophet Gathry Chiredzero, also known as Madzibaba Gathry, was jailed for 12 years and six months for masquerading as a Central Intelligence Organisation operative and stalking Mnangagwa for unknown reasons while armed.

Claudius Muzvimba, a former Zimbabwe Republic Police officer based at Avondale Police Station in Harare, was convicted of fraud for using several fake traffic offence receipt books and converting the money to personal use.

He was slapped with an effective 15 months' jail term.

Several other former employees in government and quasi-government departments were also convicted after the establishment of the specialised courts, but, as records show, the steam seems to be gradually running out,

Former Midlands Provincial Affairs minister Jason Machaya, who is facing criminal abuse of office charges, after he allegedly allocated 1 799 residential stands to private land developers without the authority of the Local Government ministry, has a long-pending corruption case.

This case, though, is not being tried by the special courts, but the Gweru Magistrates' Court.

Exiled former Higher and Tertiary Education minister Jonathan Moyo is also set to stand trial on criminal abuse of office charges and for allegedly defrauding the Zimbabwe Manpower Development Fund of over $400 000.

Sources within the judiciary and legal experts say well-heeled suspects are using complex tricks to stop or frustrate their prosecution at the Magistrates' Courts, which are fast turning into onlookers rather than referees in graft trials.

Appealing to higher courts has become a favourite trick for the suspects.

Former University of Zimbabwe vice-chancellor Levi Nyagura was charged with criminal abuse of duty as a public officer involving the awarding of a Doctor of Philosophy degree to former first lady Grace Mugabe, but his trial was frozen by the High Court pending appeal.

Former Mines minister Walter Chidakwa and his permanent secretary Francis Gudyanga are also set to be tried on allegations of criminal abuse of office, after they allegedly deliberated on a mine dispute appeal without the jurisdiction to do so.

The appeal was allegedly in connection with the mine claim ownership dispute between Midway 21 Gold Mine, owned by K & G Syndicate represented by Herbert Hwekwete, and Clifton 15 Mine owned by a Mugangavari.

Chidhakwa and Gudyanga allegedly criminally nullified the determination in favour of Mugangavari and their trial was temporarily stayed by the High Court.

Former Home Affairs minister Ignatius Chombo, who is facing a plethora of criminal cases involving corruption, fraud and criminal nuisance, is still on remand after his trial was also temporarily suspended pending his High Court challenge.

The same court recently acquitted Former Information and Communication Technology minister Supa Mandiwanzira of criminal abuse of office after allegedly engaging a South African firm, Megawatt Company, to provide services to NetOne without going to tender.

But the NPA, through prosecutor-general Kumbirai Hodzi, has appealed against the acquittal. Intratreck Zimbabwe (Pvt) Ltd director Wicknell Chivayo was also acquitted after leapfrogging the special courts by taking his case to the High Court.

He had been charged with defrauding ZPC after receiving $5 million to work on the Gwanda solar power project, but did not carry out any meaningful progress and was being accused of money-laundering as well as violating exchange control regulations.

The Special Anti-Corruption Unit that is housed in Mnangagwa's office insists Chivayo is guilty and has appealed against the High Court acquittal.

While Moyo has escaped into exile, his erstwhile ally and ex-cabinet minister, Walter Mzembi, who is also facing several corruption charges, has had his case dragging for a long time because he has been out of the country, purportedly to receive medical treatment.

Two other former Cabinet ministers, Saviour Kasukuwere and David Parirenyatwa, are awaiting trial too for abuse of office and the former is reportedly out of the country.

Those technicalities aside, the special courts have failed to gain momentum because they are poorly funded, it was established.

"We need enough resources in order to ensure that our justice delivery system is not compromised," Chikwanha said.

"Dealing with graft matters is not that easy and it needs collaboration with all other stakeholders to effectively fight the scourge."

The special courts are being funded from the same budget that was allocated to ordinary courts, which the JSC feels is inadequate, it emerged.

The JSC is struggling to find money to set up more courts, in addition to funding accommodation, transport and remuneration needs of staff, investigations revealed.

Involved magistrates, prosecutors and ancillary staff dealing with corruption cases remain poorly paid as they are receiving bare salaries like the rest of the civil service where the average worker takes home around $500.

"We cannot have a situation whereby our judicial officers are renting properties, some of which are owned by criminals," Chikwanha said.

"Sometimes judicial officers that do not own vehicles are offered transport by offenders."

Funding woes aside, prosecution of graft suspects has been muddied by lack of clarity on the jurisdiction of the anti-corruption courts, a criticism that was echoed by University of Zimbabwe law lecturer and senior lawyer, Lovemore Madhuku, who hinted that there was selectivity in the choice of those that appeared on the special roll.

"Corruption is a very sophisticated offence, which needs to be dealt with effectively without looking at one's political affiliation," he said.

"However, in the Zimbabwean situation, we seem to not to appreciate how to tackle such issues.

"We cannot talk of fighting corruption by arresting former ministers, former government officials and businesspeople who were suspected to have committed corruption almost a decade ago while other individuals who are committing the very same offences are being protected by the system."

A senior official in the office of the Prosecutor-General's Office expressed fears that, despite officers dealing with corruption getting expert training, some of them were well-known for taking bribes to throw cases.

Hodz, last week indicated the prosecutor who was handling the Mandiwanzira case, Edmore Nyazama, had been suspended after "deliberately" mispresenting to him that he had opposed the former minister's application for exception to alleged criminal abuse of office, resulting in the acquittal.

Chief magistrate Mishrod Guvamombe is currently on suspension for offering law studies internship to Mandiwanzira and Kasukuwere despite them facing trial for alleged corruption, but he has pushed for his matter to be tried at the High Court rather than by his subordinates at the magistrates' court.

And Mnangagwa recently admitted that corruption ran deep at the courts, the prosecuting authority and within the police.

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