By Nkosana Dlamini
A new-look cabinet that appears clean from a distance, arrests of prominent individuals, constant promises to root out graft, “dumping” of old cronies perceived to be dishonest and the adoption of measures that purport to deal with greedy persons and institutions.
These are all too familiar measures that the post-Robert Mugabe dispensation that took over power following a soft coup in November 2017 and controversially won the July 30 elections has adopted.
Civil society and governance experts say the government of President Emmerson Mnangagwa that drove out Mugabe—in power from April 1980 to last November—has created a mirage of fighting corruption as, in reality, it lacks the will and bravery to root out the rot.
At a recent seminar to review the impact, needs and opportunities of investigative journalism in the fight against corruption in Zimbabwe, delegates drawn from the media, civil society and diplomatic circles concurred that the post-Mugabe establishment was paying lip service to the anti-corruption drive.
Mnangagwa has been harping on the need to curb corruption since he took over from Mugabe, and one of the main beacons of the Zanu PF manifesto in the run-up to the July polls was the promise to develop a graft-free society.
“All this talk about milestones and benchmarks in fighting corruption by the so-called new dispensation is misleading because, fundamentally, the situation remains as it has been for a long time,” said Tawanda Majoni, the national coordinator of Information for Development Trust (IDT), the non-profit institution that organised the seminar held in Harare last Friday.
“If you look closely, impunity and opacity in the public sector remain prevalent, government is avoiding resolving the major cases of corruption and the systems, culture and fabric that promote corruption remain firmly in place. Bribery, fraud, extortion, blackmail and nepotism remain rife,” added Majoni.
Great Zimbabwe University History lecturer and political analyst, Dr Takavafira Zhou adds, “Mnangagwa’s regime has certainly continued with high profile corruption that has become routine rather than episodic.
“Sadly, those arrested are nothing but small fish meant to give a false impression of a new dispensation’s commitment to fight corruption and therefore lure investors.
“In reality, the window dressing is tailor-made to protect ‘Mnangagwaists’.
“Until high profile corrupt leaders closely associated with Mnangagwa are arrested, the alleged fight against corruption remains an issue of misrepresentation.”
Following the elections, Mnangagwa announced a 20-member cabinet whose majority are new faces with no known corrupt history.
He removed long serving and controversial figures such as Obert Mpofu who the Mines and Mining Development parliamentary portfolio committee, in a June 2013 report, named as having directly and indirectly played a role in the multi-billion dollar leakage of diamonds from the Marange fields during his time as the responsible minister.
But several decisions by Mnangagwa and his lieutenants immediately undid this seemingly goodwill gesture of picking a fresh-looking and leaner cabinet as opposed to Mugabe’s successive governments over 37 years.
Mpofu and the “dead wood” that was hewn out of cabinet, including former Finance minister, Patrick Chinamasa, were reassigned to the ruling Zanu PF party headquarters as senior full-time members, creating a new fear that they would continue to influence government policy through their party decisions and possibly perpetuate the culture of corruption.
University of Zimbabwe political science professor, Eldred Masunungure warns of potential confusion if Zanu PF pursued its controversial dual reporting system for cabinet ministers who will now be accountable to both parliament and the Zanu PF politburo, with the latter wielding a more influential role in the exercise.
“They will interfere with government business,” he said of former ministers now full time Zanu PF employees.
“There is little doubt about that. That in fact has been the case even under Mugabe long back.
“He articulated that position of the supremacy of the party over government, only that it was not as explicit as it now easy is.
“The reality is that these guys would be superintending over ministers, meaning that they will be superior as former ministers. So the interference is clear. Unless there is clarity on the relationship between these parties, there is the likelihood of a dysfunctionality in government especially if a government minister is accountable not to Parliament but to Zanu PF.”
Masunungure said the decision to keep former Minister Mpofu under a payroll was a sign that Presodent Mnanagwa was not inspired by any desire to remove a figure that has been assocaietd with corruption but was a tool to manage the Zanu PF transition from the old and the new as well as softlanding the veteran politicians’ political lives.
There was an outcry over Mnangagwa’s retention of Jorum Gumbo, moving him from the Transport portfolio to Energy and Power Development in the new cabinet.
Gumbo, a long-time ally of Mnangagwa from the Midlands province, the president’s home area, has been choking in the controversial establishment of a dodgy airline, Zimbabwe Airways, which is suspected to have been set up in a deal that was meant to personally benefit an elite ruling clique.
Mnangagwa has hardly commented nor acted on the scandalous Zimbabwe Airways deal, which involved the mysterious $70 million purchase of two decommissioned airplanes from Malaysia that have since been returned.
The new cabinet was further tainted by the move to get in Energy Mutodi, who civil servants claim headed a housing scheme that he allegedly used to swindle hundreds of thousands of dollars, as deputy minister of Information and Publicity.
The new Health minister, Obadiah Moyo, a losing candidate in the July parliamentary poll, is suspected to have lied about his professional qualifications and reports claim that he does not hold a medical degree as he says.
Mnangagwa, together with the Foreign Affairs Minister and ex-Lieutenant General, Sibusiso Moyo—then director of a Zimbabwean militarized commercial entity, COSLEG—were named in a 2002 United Nations report as having taken part in the looting of minerals in the Democratic Republic of the Congo during civil disturbances in that country.
The UN named Mnangagwa as the brains behind the looting of natural resources in the DRC.
“The key strategist for the Zimbabwean branch of the elite network (of Zimbabwean and Congolese officials involved in systematic looting of DRC minerals) is the Speaker of the Parliament and former National Security Minister, Emmerson Dambudzo Mnangagwa. Mr. Mnangagwa has won strong support from senior military and intelligence officers for an aggressive policy in the Democratic Republic of the Congo,” read the report in part.
Furthermore, Marry, the wife of Mnangagwa’s first vice president and former head of the Defence Forces up to the November coup, Constantine Chiwenga, was recently named in court as having been awarded a tender to provide travel services to the presidency without going to tender.
Reports from reputable international institutions like Global Witness have indicated that the army looted diamonds from Marange when Chiwenga was in charge, indicating that the current presidium is tainted despite the fact that government has vehemently denied the charges in the past.
There are numerous cases that the Mnangagwa administration seems too shy to tackle, with observers charging that the president is either too afraid to deal with them or fears a backlash as pursuing the cases would expose hidden skeletons.
Zhou said the alleged fight against corruption remained futile for as long as it did not have the names of people who have long been associated with it.
“As long as Obert Mpofu, Vice President Chiwenga, Vice President Modadi, Philip Chiyangwa, Joramu Gumbo and other numerous lackeys of the President are not arrested, then the alleged fight against corruption remain mere window dressing,” he said.
The former first lady, Grace Mugabe, remains scot-free despite a wide range of reports of fraudulent land seizures and deep-seated suspicion that she milked State coffers during her husband’s rule.
Recently, Mnangagwa chartered a plane for her to travel from Qatar to attend her mother’s funeral reportedly using public funds.
Obert Mpofu, several months ago, refused to give oral evidence in parliament over his suspected involvement in the looting of the Marange diamonds and Mnangagwa has not spoken on that intransigence.
And there are numerous cases relating to violation of tender procedures that the new dispensation has completely ignored, among them the Dema diesel power plant that involved Mugabe’s son-in-law, Derrick Chikore whose brother, Simba, who is married to the ex-president’s daughter, Bona as well as Sakunda, a company whose co-shareholder, Kuda Tagwirei, is considered close to Mnanagwa and his deputy, Constantine Chiwenga.
Mnangagwa’s has arrested several former cabinet ministers linked to corruption, among them former Home Affairs minister, Ignatius Chombo, former Energy minister, Samuel Undenge, a sister to Grace Mugabe, Shuvai Gumbochuma, who was recently released on bail over charges of the fraudulent sale of peri-urban land and former Health minister, David Parirenyatwa.
The latest ex-minister to be arrested is Saviour Kasukure, formerly in charge of Local Government, who was taken in last Monday on several charges involving the abuse of office and the alleged illegal sale of land.
While these ministers have for a long time been accused of corruption, critics accuse the Mnangagwa administration of selectivity in that all of them were his political foes in Zanu PF and say he must also arrest those considered to be close to him.
The Zimbabwe Anti-Corruption Commission (Zacc), a statutory anti-graft body, has remained largely ineffective.
Recent reports have indicated that its investigators are poorly paid and were at one time getting as little as $600 a month when commissioners who hardly did anything were receiving $11,000 in allowances, even though those perks have since been stopped.
Politicians are said to frequently manipulate the commission which, in addition to having no investigations manual, is reported to be tainted by political bias in handling cases, resulting in commissioners throwing out certain reports of alleged fraud that are deemed politically sensitive.
Mnangagwa has virtually shown lack of confidence in Zacc by setting a parallel anti-graft unit in his office.
But Zacc Investigations Committee head, Goodson Nguni dismissed any suggestions the appointment of the new anti-corruption unit was all to do with lack of confidence in Zacc.
“Those people are lawyers who have been appointed; their job is to prosecute cases. That’s all and they are not investigators. We are investigators and the President said that when he appointed them.”
Nguni dismissed assertions Zacc could be under immense political pressure to pursue some cases while abandoning others.
“No one is intimidating us. No one is interfering with us. We are going about our duties as usual unlike what used to happen during the time of Mugabe. We have got great support from the government.”
Majoni’s said his organisation, IDT, will soon resort to litigation to force public entities to avail information of public interest as required by the constitution, while the Zimbabwe Editors Forum (Zinef) coordinator, Njabulo Ncube, suggested that civil society organisations must collaborate in identifying test cases involving corruption, investigating them and pressing for the culprits to be prosecuted.