IMAGINE a skimpily dressed woman flashing her thighs at passing motorists in the Avenues yelling “God is great” and beseeching you to “repent from your sinful ways”.
As extreme as this analogy might sound, this is the picture that came to my mind as I digested a parliamentary debate on corruption that took place in Harare this week.
Indeed, the absurdity of a Zimbabwe cabinet minister – at least some of them – embarking on an anti-corruption crusade has never been lost on many of us forsaken citizens.
Take Transport and Infrastructural Development Minister Obert Mpofu for example. His efforts to rid state entities that fall under his cabinet portfolio – including the Zimbabwe National Roads Administration, the Civil Aviation Authority of Zimbabwe, Air Zimbabwe and the National Railways of Zimbabwe – of corruption and bad business practices have been making the headlines in recent weeks.
I am not in any way suggesting he is the equivalent of the thigh-flashing woman mentioned in my analogy. Nor am I insinuating his reported wealth is ill-gotten, for I do not have any shred of evidence to make such a conclusion.
But Mpofu, even by his own admission, knows many people suspect his money might not be clean. “People say we steal, but how can you steal when things are so hard?” the minister was quoted as saying by the daily Southern Eye newspaper during a field day at his Nyamandlovu homestead in January.
Look, it’s not criminal to be a person of means. But the fact that people – including his fellow Zanu PF legislator Temba Mliswa – have question marks over his riches somehow inevitably reduces his anti-graft drive to a thinly veiled attempt to hoodwink Zimbabweans into believing their prayers for a corruption-free country are finally being answered.
Yet Mpofu might be sincere after all. Just like no one would dispute it when a suspected whore says “God is great”, no sane person would deny it when Mpofu or any other minister says corruption is the country’s number-one enemy. It’s only that we live in a society that places high value in the conveyor of the message.
I am sure it would go a long way in bearing out Mpofu’s integrity and sincerity if he could, as suggested by Mliswa in parliament this week, reveal how he allegedly amassed his wealth “when things are so hard”.Advertisement
“In an economy like this, it is sad that a minister would actually buy a bank,” the Hurungwe West MP was quoted by the Herald as saying during the parliamentary debate, apparently referring to Mpofu’s purchase of the controlling stake in the struggling ZABG Bank in a US$22.8 million transaction. “. . . There is no way that somebody can buy a bank in this economic environment that we have. We need to look into it and do something,” Mliswa continued.
“Ministers must be asked to declare their wealth before they are given their jobs,” he added. “Time has come for them to declare their wealth before they take up their jobs so that people understand what you actually went in with and what you came out with. For as long as that does not happen, we shall have situations where ministers constantly are at the height of being corrupt.”
I would not have put it better than Mliswa did, but I would have also asked Mpofu to explain how Zimbabwe’s diamond wealth was allegedly looted under his watch. The Marange diamond fields, often described as the biggest diamond discovery of a generation, are seen as the panacea to the country’s economic woes. But the manner in which the mineral wealth has been managed – including during Mpofu’s tenure as mines minister – leaves a lot to be desired.
There is the issue of the billions of diamond revenues that were allegedly never remitted to the national treasury, while lucrative concessions and deals were signed with dubious companies or individuals with little or no mining experience. Explaining satisfactorily these suspected swindles might give Mpofu the legitimacy he so desperately needs if we are to believe he is serious about curbing corruption.
But of course, he is not alone. Several government ministers are known to spend beyond the means of their US$800 monthly salaries. Yet convincing Zimbabweans that the government’s anti-corruption drive – if there is any beyond recent media exposes – is genuine will not be easy even if Mpofu and his comrades were to reveal the sources of their reported wealth.
For years, we have watched many high-profile cases of corruption collapsing or being conveniently shelved. Many still remember Willowgate, the War Victims Compensation Fund scandal, the VIP Housing outrage, the Zimbabwe Iron and Steel Company cannibalisation, the Kondozi Estate looting and the Zimbabwe United Passenger Company plunder, among many other cases of corruption involving public officials.
It might be a costly and arduous exercise to revive some of these cases, but the government still has a chance to sanitise its contaminated legacy: it must make its ministers and other senior public officials account for their wealth and personal assets.
Of course, they have to answer for their deeds and misdeeds while in public service too. Just that and we will all start believing our leaders are genuine about ridding state corridors of corruption and fostering transparency and good corporate governance in all public offices. Isn’t it they say charity begins at home?
Let me sign off with lyrics from Michael Jackson’s hit Man in the Mirror:
I’m starting with the man in the mirror
I’m asking him to change his ways
And no message could have been any clearer
If you wanna make the world a better place
Take a look at yourself and then make a change
Darlington Majonga is a journalist based in South Africa.