Source: Corruption: Lessons from the Asian Tigers | The Herald July 24, 2019
Livit Mugejo Correspondent
Corruption is one of the biggest elephants in the room that is slowing progress towards the attainment of our vision to become an upper-middle income economy by 2030.
We don’t want to achieve that status for only a few individuals, who will be super- rich by 2030 through corrupt means.
Corruption is not a new phenomenon in Zimbabwe; the First Republic was object of bribery and nepotism. Thirty-seven years of the First Republic can be viewed as a long period in the institutionalisation of corruption in the country.
The Second Republic has made the fight against corruption, collusion and cronyism its main priority. It is against this backdrop that l give my views on the way forward for the recently sworn-in commissioners for the Zimbabwe Anti-Corruption Commission (ZACC).
The idea is not to re-invent the wheel, but to make some existing and available beautiful wheels in superb condition known to us, least we may adopt one.
Once upon a time, there was a financial crisis upon the East Asian nations from South Korea to Indonesia in 1997. The crisis hit the so-called Asian Tigers that include South Korea, Indonesia, Malaysia, Thailand and Singapore. The biggest question is: What can we learn from the crisis in terms of corruption?
The lesson is that the most affected and devastated countries by the crisis were the most corrupt nations. Corruption, collusion and cronyism aggravated their problems.
We all want a good, honest, clean and reliable government that delivers the promised good life for all. The principal agency charged with the task is ZACC. This institution must be empowered and supported so that it is able to enforce rules without fear or favour for a better Zimbabwe. This is why we should ask ourselves what is it that ZACC must do to fight corruption for the development of our country.
The effects of corruption are well known and documented. The scourge has many different shapes as well as many various effects, both on the economy and the society at large. Most scholars agree that all of the major impacts of corruption are negative.
It is true that corruption makes economic growth very difficult and increases inequality among citizens. Above all, corruption makes it harder for true democracy to develop in our country. By and large, corruption inhibits economic growth as it is a major problem for doing business and affects business operations, employment and investments. Government becomes dysfunctional since corruption reduces tax revenue. As a result, the effectiveness of various Government programmes is reduced too.
The society at large is also negatively affected by the scourge of corruption for it lowers the trust in the rule of law and education. As a result, the quality of life such as access to infrastructure and healthcare is reduced. It is, therefore, important to know how to deal with corruption. But before we tackle the how question, it is important that the causes are examined first.
Among the most common causes of corruption are the political and economic environment factors. Professional ethics, morality, habits, customs, tradition and demography are some of the causes.
In dealing with some of these causes, Singapore provides an interesting example. From day one, Singapore was aware that petty power invested in bureaucrats who cannot live on their salaries is an invitation for corruption.
According to its founding father Lee Kuan Yew, Singapore, therefore, gave special attention to the areas where discretionary power has been exploited for personal gain. It sharpened the instruments that could prevent, detect or deter such practices.
The critical agency that was assigned for the huge task was the Corrupt Practices Investigation Bureau (CPIB). From the beginning, the CPIB concentrated on the so-called big fish. And for the smaller fish, it simplified procedures and removed discretion by having clearly publicised guidelines, and often doing way with the need for permits or approvals in less critical areas.
Another critical area that needs ZACC’s urgent attention is the law. In Singapore, the law on corruption was tightened to secure convictions, for example, by widening the definition of gratuity to include anything of value; amendments that gave wide powers to investigators such as arrest, search and powers to have access to bank accounts of suspects, their wives, children and agents.
Another significant law was introduced in 1960, which allowed the courts to use proof that an accused was living beyond his means or had property beyond his income as corroborating evidence that the accused had accepted or obtained a bribe. Above all, the law made it compulsory for witnesses summoned by the CPIB to come and give evidence.
In cleaning the politics, Singapore avoided the use of money to win elections. It avoided what was commonly called “commercial democracy, the purchased mandate” in Thailand or “money politics” in Malaysia. It avoided Indonesia’s CCN which stands for collusion, corruption and nepotism.
One should always bear in mind that the bane of most countries is the high cost of elections. As Lee Kuan Yew noted, “the precondition for an honest government is that candidates must not need large sums of money to get elected, or it must trigger off the cycle of corruption,” as candidates seek to recoup their electoral expenses.
From the above example, it can be shown that a system of clean and no-money elections helps to preserve an honest government. Most importantly, such a system can only be maintained clean and honest if honest and able men are willing to enter politics and assume office. To achieve that, they must be paid salaries commensurate with what their counterparts in private sector are earning.
If we underpay such people of high quality and integrity, it is folly to expect them to stay. After all, there is enough evidence in Asia where underpaid ministers and civil servants have ruined many governments.
Indeed, “adequate remuneration is vital for high standards of probity in political leaders and high officials.” Singapore actually came up with a formula to address the problem; they pegged the salaries of their public officials and politicians to those of their private sector counterparts.
In short, Singapore was able to weather the 1997 financial crisis because there was no corruption and cronyism. Indonesia, which was severely damaged during the crisis, came up wiser and set up a very powerful Anti-Corruption Commission with powers to arrest, wiretap suspects and prosecute them.
The commission has achieved more than 98 percent conviction rate that is mostly targeted at the big fish. It is doing a wonderful job to the extent that lawmakers are always at odds with the general public whenever they try to reduce its powers.
This discussion would do just as well to mention Georgia. To ensure Georgia’s anti-corruption reforms are sustainable and institutions held accountable, it implemented comprehensive public administration reforms. It stepped up efforts to educate public officials and inform on government-wide anti-corruption efforts. Furthermore, it ensured active and autonomous investigation and prosecution of corruption cases at all levels.
It involved civil society more in the implementation and monitoring of national anti-corruption policies. As a result of these efforts, Georgia was able to establish legislation that holds Georgian companies criminally liable for bribery.
In other words, Georgia was able to develop a new national anti-corruption strategy; criminalise active and passive bribery and enforce its criminal legislation; and crackdown on corruption in the public sector by better disclosing public officials’ assets, strengthening whistleblower protections, and improving public financial control and procurement measures.
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