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Corruption is eating into the lockdown

26 Apr 2020 at 13:27hrs | Views
JUST look at the volume of traffic on our roads. What do you see? Cars, of course. But, beyond that, you must see a big problem.

We are under a lockdown, whose philosophy is beautiful. People must stay at home and minimise travel - unnecessary travel - so as to curb the spread of Covid-19. Minimal travel is good for social distancing, and the latter is good for minimising chances of catching this killer flu.

But, more or less, it's business as usual for Zimbabweans. They are moving around like bats and there must be reasons for this. Obviously, people love their freedom. That's one. People don't like being holed up at home. They want to feel good by being out there. Pretty like the Americans, who are now organising protests to be let free from a lockdown, with Old Trump's unwritten blessing, of course. They have come up with this weird theory that the coronavirus is a lame excuse to deny them freedom of movement and freedom of assembly. It's not clear who taught them that, but the Americans love their freedom so much they don't care a hoot if getting it will bring them death.

You don't guess they are spoilt lumpens for behaving like that. Because, you see, even Zimbabweans have, from day one, also shown a foolish tendency to love their freedom without a good reason to show for it. Indians are doing the same thing. So are the Kenyans, Ghanaians, South Africans, you name them.

Here, you also see them aimlessly loitering in big numbers at the shops. Don't be fooled, they don't go there to buy things. They are so much used to being in crowded places. Some have even formed local football clubs and are playing soccer in the community parks every afternoon. Funny enough, they are all talking Covid-19 with every swear word. But that pandemic, in their minds and actions, is for other people, not them.

You must also have noticed that the volume of cars and pedestrians in town has blown up so unbelievably in the last two or so weeks. And there is no prize for guessing that, the more the lockdown extensions we get, the higher the volume.

Well, outside the human tendency to be out when you are supposed to be in, there is another- quite legitimate reason why people are treating today like it was yesterday, when there was no coronavirus. Zimbabwe, like most of the developing south, is a highly informalised economy. There aren't too many formal jobs for you out there because those that run the country have ruined the economy. People hustle for a living. For most of them, there is no life without hustling. But then, you can't hustle with your kids at home. So, you need to be out there buying vegetables from Mbare for resale, selling your broiler chickens and even hoarding beer from the liquor outlets for delivery to those that don't want to go out to the shops.

But, whatever reason is there for people to go out, this lockdown is clear. It's an emergency

arrangement that makes it unlawful for those that must stay at home to be loitering out there. And the question comes: Why do we have more people than necessary, loitering? That's an easy one, of course.

It's corruption, stupid!

If you can't resist the urge to go and see your "small house" across town, you don't bother that much. It's all about your pocket. There are roadblocks on all roads that feed into town. Quite a number of them, you would think Augustine Chihuri was back in office. These blocks are manned by police, municipal, traffic and army officers. That would look like a solid combination. At these blocks, you must show documented evidence that you are allowed to be travelling outside your home vicinity. This comes in the form of letters from your employer or an identity card. This wrongly assumes that every person, who must be travelling is in formal employment, but bits about this later.

The truth is that the majority of the people who are seen on the roads don't have the required travel passes. Yet they move around town like they are on holiday. That's because they use a different form of pass to go through. They bribe those chaps who you see manning the roadblocks. The same applies with the Zupco crew.

Many people are getting into those buses, which government has allowed to ferry travellers, without a pass. They use money. Even when they get to a roadblock and are ordered out, they still get back into the bus. They use money. The same applies with the public service buses that are the only other form of transport that is being allowed for civil servants during the lockdown. Not everyone who gets into those buses is a civil servant. They use money.

There are several reasons why this problem is festering. There just isn't enough supervision of the roadblocks and the buses. There is need for a re-think on how the problem of corruption can be stemmed. Visiting officers must make regular checks at the roadblocks. The block officers are taking bribes so casually you would think that' it's a normal thing to do in Zimbabwe. And culprits must be brought to book.

This is where Zimbabwe differs from other countries, South Africa for instance. Since South Africa started its lockdown in March, more than 80 police officers have been arrested for engaging in different kinds of violations that include bribe taking, escorting contraband and failing to enforce social distancing requirements. Well, more could have escaped the loop, but that government is doing something.

Not here. Not a single officer has been arrested for taking bribes or performing duty in an improper manner. Away from the roadblocks, police officers freely do transactions on the illegal black market at the shops and every manner of alley. That's a huge contradiction, if not an insult. You may think that Temba Mliswa is nuts, but he has a point. Just recently, he ran into police officers who were aiding and abetting loiterers at a shopping centre in Norton, and boiled over on that. He promised the offending officers severe punishment, and that's the way to go.

Similarly, there is need for a revisit of lockdown travel regulations. In their current form, they are too shortsighted and contain loopholes. For instance, they assume - quite stupidly - that every person classified as an essential service provider is formally employed. But our economy is hugely informal, so where is the majority going to get letters of confirmation? There is an untidy contradiction in that too. For instance, agriculture has been designated an essential service. Who is going to write a letter of confirmation for a farmer from Mutoko?

The point is, this loophole can easily be manipulated. For anyone can claim that he or she is a farmer from Mutoko. But, besides, it must be ensured that those that are offering essential services are given free passage, not the naughty ones who are going to use money as a pass.

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Tawanda Majoni is the Information for Development (IDT) national coordinator and can be contacted on tmajoni@idt.org.zw

Source - The Standard
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