EDITORIAL COMMENT : Beating corruption needs everyone’s input 

Source: EDITORIAL COMMENT : Beating corruption needs everyone’s input | The Herald

EDITORIAL COMMENT : Beating corruption needs everyone’s input

Corruption and corruption-related activities such as favouritism and abuse of office are still serious problems in Zimbabwe despite the major culture change introduced by President Mnangagwa and the Second Republic and as the President noted this week still needs all of us to actively fight it.

The battle is not and cannot be fought on one front, by the Zimbabwe Anti-Corruption Commission which is mandated as the lead agency in the Constitution, or even just by the Government.

The corrupt come from all walks of life, and insinuate themselves into all walks of life as they pervert institutions and seduce the honest.

This is why the National Anti-Corruption Strategy launched last year includes a national steering committee, already in place, that comprises senior Government officials, legislators, representatives of the public and private sector as well as civic society. Just as corruption can be everywhere so the fight must be everywhere.

Now the strategy is getting down to detailed plans and detailed action in the Zimbabwe Anti-Corruption Strategic plan for 2021 to 2023 that the President launched on Monday, the Fifth African Anti-Corruption Day.

This plan recognises the lead constitutional role of the Zimbabwe Anti-Corruption Commission, but also lays out how every other relevant agency and body needs to work with the commission.

There are obvious improvements that must be made. For a start, while a lot of those suspected to be involved in what can be called “big time” corruption in Government and major national agencies have been arrested and remanded, their trials tend to take forever.

Some of the delays are the result of excellent lawyers working for the defence, who seek out, as they should, every loophole in the State case, and, less nobly, find other reasons for delay.

But some are the result of incomplete investigations, it being common in many hearings for further remand for yet another month that the State still has investigations to conclude.

This is starting to bring in applications for refusal of remand, and at some stage judicial officers will have little option, but to accede to such applications under our rules of natural justice.

Of course such accused, when removed from remand, can still be summoned for trial, but in the meantime there is nothing to stop them taking a very holiday in a country that has no extradition treaty with Zimbabwe.

We already have some citizens, once very prominent, whom the police are anxious to interview, but who have decided, wisely when looking at it from their point of view, to continue pressing their applications for permanent residence in another land.

Not only the commission, but also the relevant CID units in the police, auditors and others need to accelerate the gathering of hard evidence. This might well mean a few extra high-class people on the payroll.

The Auditor-General has already complained about the staff levels in her office, and that office is often the starting point for an investigation and certainly a major revealer of wrongdoing as well as a gatherer of hard evidence for a criminal trial.

The police need their own special skills, besides the ability to catch a thief that detectives do learn. They either need to encourage suitable officers to seek training in advanced skills or open their ranks to special entrants.

One reason why the old settler police were able to nail a lot of the corrupt was a decision to allow experienced chartered accountants with a military commitment under the call-up to serve in the fraud squad.

The National Prosecuting Authority also needs to think how it can move things along faster. Again this might mean a special team of double-qualified prosecutors, able to manoeuvre in the realms of the law and the financial fiddling that the corrupt tend to surround themselves with.

We have suggested before that in some areas, and corruption seems to be one, a closer relationship between prosecutors, police and the commission is needed so that all the angles are covered more quickly. Other countries find that useful.

As the President noted there are other paths of attack. Creating systems that make it hard for a corrupt official to cheat is one, and the President brought up ICT solutions; those have the advantage that it is impossible to destroy the old document and even if you change it, the old version is buried in a database somewhere.

Laying out a “paper” trail in court, even a long one, does result in conviction.

The Government has already in many areas of its reform programme removed the human element. Just for example in the allocation of foreign currency, it authorised the switch to the auctions which not only stabilised exchange rates, but removed a personal decision making process, with allocations now settled by bids.

Of course there is still cheating, this time almost entirely from the private sector, but systems are in place to catch that, and now law in place to hammer the cheats with civil penalties.

But we also need to remember, at the lower levels of corruption as well as the higher, that most corrupt acts have at least two criminals, the person who seeks the bribe or other advantage and the person who pays. Of course we also get those who manipulate systems and steal that way, without someone else, but usually someone else has to be involved even here.

The President’s ideal of every Zimbabwean learning from early childhood onwards what is or is not acceptable, and very importantly what to do if they find something going on, makes sense.

The kombi driver slipping a policeman US$1 to pass a roadblock is just as guilty as the policeman accepting the buck. In that particular case, the Government has tried to remove the temptation for corruption by licensing private bus owners into the Zupco franchise, and that sort of policy can be extended into other areas.

The Zimbabwe Anti-Corruption Commission can never have the staff and resources to hunt down the myriads of little corrupt acts that bedevil our culture.

It can go after the big shots and can go after systems that encourage or allow corruption, but in the end the defeat of the corrupt needs all of us to play our part.

If everyone refuses to pay bribes, and will blow the whistle if this emerges in conversation, then we can beat the small timers and change our national culture.

As the President noted, with his multi-year programmes, defeating corruption will not be instant. But the victory can be won, and will be won, when a multi-pronged strategy of changing cultures, making it a lot more difficult to be corrupt, and catching the perpetrators is forging ahead.