Corruption and corruption-related activity is a major problem around the world, as several major leaks have revealed in the past and with now the new “Pandora Papers” feeding information into the anti-corruption agencies in many countries.
But just because corruption, money laundering and tax evasion are common in the countries that like to wear golden halos when lecturing the likes of Zimbabwe, this is no reason for us to lower our guard or step back from the campaigns to nail criminals and reclaim our stolen wealth.
What all these revelations show is that we are not alone, that no one can really sit back and relax and that, along with all sorts of other criminals, the corrupt can be found pretty much everywhere. And so they have to be fought everywhere.
But the latest revelations also show that whistle blowers are also ubiquitous and seem to be getting better organised and more ready to unveil the flows in the sewers that run underneath the world’s financial systems, and that makes corruption harder everywhere, since one major problem the corrupt have is where to stash what they have stolen or even semi-legally earned in setting up corrupt deals for others.
Zimbabwe’s anti-corruption drive has been hampered by two problems: the difficulty in tracing the trail of money and the difficulty in putting everything together so that a magistrate or a judge can see clearly how the money was stolen or obtained in bribes, how it was moved around and where it is now.
Everyone knows the problem. Bits and pieces of information come to light; there are suggestions that link the dubious activity to someone important or rich or both and the chain of evidence has been subjected to some serious efforts to make it disappear.
Bribery, by its nature, tends to be something not done in front of witnesses and it is extraordinary difficult to link overpriced goods with a bribe to pay those prices, although everyone has their doubts that the deal is aboveboard.
Influence peddling requires some sort of link to make someone risk their reputation and their liberty, but who knows just what are the relationships between someone given a favour and the person giving the favour. There are two approaches to ending corruption. The first involves setting up systems that make it hard in the first place. These include audits, checks and a decision-making process that eliminates dishonesty.
The Zimbabwe Anti-Corruption Commission has been helping to build these systems, along with others in Government, and is now getting the Auditor-General’s reports to be taken seriously and is helping organisations work out better policing systems.
But that still leaves those who have already stolen, or who are able to figure out some way round the safeguards. ZACC has been calling for some time for far better co-ordinated efforts to burrow into the swamp and then assemble the evidence to make criminal charges stick.
Now the National Prosecuting Authority has stepped up and shown the required innovation and determination.
A team of 15 prosecutors has been detailed to join the investigators and others in a combined effort to track down, prosecute and hopefully jail the corrupt.
For historical reasons in Zimbabwe, a part of the British colonial heritage, close links were discouraged between the police and other investigators and the lawyers who must take the cases to court. That system might be fine in straight-forward crime, everything from jumping a red light to murder, but simply allows complex financial skulduggery to bog down into a string of endless remands.
Even the investigating team needs to be multi-disciplined, with accountants, business experts and detectives working together as they uncover and untangle what those who are really desperate to hide everything.
And the prosecutor who will take the whole matter to court needs to be involved early on, becoming totally familiar with the investigation and then helping to identify the gaps in the string of evidence so that the whole chain is there. After all, the person who has acquired sudden wealth without explanations or as a result of open business operations, usually has their own experts who can hide money, launder money and make it appear far away and rinsed clean. So the hunters have to be as good as the hunted.
But the investigators need some sort of handle, and often need to know that something very dubious and suspicious is happening. This is where the whistle blowers come in, people who are so disgusted about what they are seeing that they want something done about it, even if they are not eligible for rewards.
But they do need protection. Sometimes they work in an organisation that is generally clean but where some powerful people, like their boss, is up to no good and can make life impossible for them.
ZACC has come to recognise the usefulness of whistle blowers and the need for them to be totally protected. The commission has even drafted proposed legislation.
Being practical ZACC has dealt with the problem of the whistle blower being mistaken or plain wrong. That happens. Basically ZACC wants the protection to extend to those who act in good faith, but whose information is wrong or not very good.
This will further encourage people to come forward, and those who are wrong probably need protection more than anyone.
At the same time ZACC wants to deal with the malicious, those who for their own nefarious purposes are ready to denounce someone unjustly. This can be anything from a spouse in a difficult divorce, through the complexities of office politics and even a corrupt person trying to get rid of the honest.
It will be difficult sometimes to decide whether a person is mistaken or is lying but the effort must be made so that those who do know, and do not wish to be involved in dishonesty, can be encouraged to come forward.
We have already seen how difficult it is to investigate corruption and assemble the chains of evidence to ensure a conviction, but we are moving forward as we get better at uncovering what has happened and get better at working together to round up the criminals.
In the end, as with so much crime, you can stop corruption by having systems that work to make it very difficult to steal the money in the first place, and then ensuring that those who do manage using the almost inexhaustible ability of humans to circumvent anything are caught, charged and convicted.
It needs both.