All bark, no bite: The case of Zacc

THE November 2017 coup brought new dreams and hopes among the citizens, many who believed the new regime would knock corruption off very high perch. However, after ad infinitum calls against the corruption cancer and no practical action, citizens’ hopes are fast fading away.

Corruption continues to hurt the economy, slowing down development and the fight against poverty is going off rails. It can only take a competent leadership and political will to stem corruption – and all that is in short supply in Zimbabwe at the moment.

Since coming to power through a coup, President Emmerson Mnangagwa has been waxing lyrical about fighting corruption. In his quest to fight the scourge, Mnangagwa established a special anti-corruption unit in his office and dissolved the disgraced Zimbabwe Anti-Corruption Commission (Zacc). The President then appointed a new Zacc board, chaired by Loice Matanda-Moyo, after the previous Zacc body was accused of corruption and lacking the “teeth to bite”.

Last year, Mnangagwa gave us a long list of individuals and companies accused of externalising nearly US$1 billion. The list provided fodder for Zacc to start investigations and bring the culprits to book, but it seems the case has suffered a still-birth. In July, Matanda-Moyo said the commission had received Auditor-General (AG) Mildred Chiri’s report and investigations had commenced in respect of ministries, parastatals and State entities involved in corruption and misappropriation of funds. Chiri’s report revealed that the government last year had a $2 billion budget overrun without parliamentary approval, when parastatals, State entities and local authorities unashamedly flouted accounting procedures. According to the AG’s report, the government was supposed to spend $4,6 billion from the Consolidated Revenue Fund, but ended up spending $7,1 billion.

The Zacc boss said the report was fodder for investigations into corruption, theft, misappropriation of funds and abuse of power and or any other improper conduct committed in the public sector, adding that Zacc had received at least 38 corruption reports since assuming duty, of which a dozen were high-profile cases.

While we have not witnessed many arrests or convictions, other than catch-and-release shows, last week we were told Zacc was casting its nets wider to recover ill-gotten wealth stashed in foreign lands by engaging regional governments in the fight against corruption. Have we exhausted the AG’s report? What has happened to the externalisation list? What has happened to 15 top Zanu PF and government officials, including Reserve Bank of Zimbabwe governor John Mangudya, Cabinet ministers and business leaders who were accused by the ruling party youth league of running illegal foreign currency rings?

This lackadaisical approach is corruption in itself – it’s self-defeating. What Zimbabweans are expecting is action, not sloganeering and posturing. There is no excuse because evidence of corruption is readily available. What is now needed is for Matanda-Moyo to bite the bullet and descend on the big fish in high offices, not herrings.

This gung-ho approach in fighting corruption will not help the Zimbabwean cause. What we have seen so far is not a genuine anti-corruption campaign, but a pursuit of personal and political agendas and vendettas disguised as zero tolerance to graft.

A handful of people who have been arrested on corruption charges are either in the wrong basket or small fish. Former Tourism minister Priscah Mupfumira is a good example. A fish rots from the head. The anti-corruption fight has gone to the dogs. At this rate, no one, including those in his inner circle, still take Mnangagwa’s anti-graft rhetoric seriously. It’s a case of all bark, no bite!

Zimbabweans must have a buy-in and own the fight against corruption. The fact that small fish and a few people perceived to be anti-establishment are the ones the corruption dragnet has caught raises questions. The command “ugly-culture” is one vehicle that well-to-do and connected individuals have been using to loot and self-enrich. This programme should be disinfected.

If he wants to be believed, Mnangagwa must urgently confront dishonest or fraudulent conduct by those in power, typically involving bribery, fraud and theft, as well as other criminal activities. What is needed is political will to tackle corruption in all its various manifestations. Granting Zacc prosecutorial powers will yield nothing if not accompanied by political will.

The judiciary is the last frontier in the fight against corruption with growing calls for this arm of government, charged with implementing the law, to be reformed.

In South Africa, judicial officers are performing much better than their counterparts in the region. Prosecution and trials of accused persons is conducted as quickly as legally permissible. Judges are expected to hand down written judgements that are automatically loaded online within 30 days of concluding a case. Zimbabwean courts can learn something from their colleagues from across the Limpopo River. They have to start delivering judgments soon after trials are concluded, not the current scenario where full judgments are only made available in many instances nearly two years later.

How does this help? Making full judgments available helps dispel the notion that the bench is captured or influenced as more often than not everyone can read for themselves the reasoning behind the judge’s decision. This would go a long way in making justice transparent and people could judge for themselves if justice is being done.

It seems Matanda-Moyo is biting more than she can chew. While Zacc has not hit the ground running on the local front in terms of recovering the local loot, she is already talking about recovering illegally-acquired assists in Sadc countries. Madam Matanda-Moyo, charity begins at home. Common criminals are occupying government offices, driving posh cars, building mansions in leafy suburbs, while the anti-graft body is engaging in catch-and-release shows. It is either the teeth that Zacc got have fallen off or the commission is now captured or both.

 Cliff Chiduku is journalist. He writes here in his personal capacity. Feedback: cchiduku@gmail.com