HARARE – In legal circles, it is said that “justice delayed is justice denied.”
In essence, the axiom implies that matters brought before the courts must be dealt with within a reasonable time because delaying the granting of justice is tantamount to denying it altogether.
It infers that the courts must expediently try issues so that the aggrieved parties get justice. When President Emmerson Mnangagwa came to power in November last year through a soft coup that toppled former strongman Robert Mugabe, he vowed to root out corruption.
However, in a classic case of new wine in old bottles, when it comes to corruption-related cases currently before the courts, the legal maxim does not seem to apply even after Mugabe’s departure from the power pedestal.
Consequent to his anti- corruption declaration, various former Cabinet ministers and other government officials who held influential positions in different State-linked organisations were arrested on various corruption-related charges which they allegedly committed whilst in office.
Some of the notable figures include former Finance minister Ignatius Chombo, Saviour Kasukuwere
(Local Government), Walter Chidakwa (Mines) Walter Mzembi (Tourism) Samuel Undenge (Energy) as well as bureaucrats such as Francis Gudyanga, and Levi Nyagura amongst others.
Most of the officials are linked to the Generation 40 faction popularly known as the G40 which seemingly pushed for former first lady Grace Mugabe to succeed her husband.
In line with his pledge, in May this year Mnangagwa set up a team of lawyers and prosecutors to form the Special Anti-Corruption Unit to deal with graft.
The unit was tasked with prosecuting officials arraigned on corruption-related charges.
However, its constitutionality has been challenged.
Despite these bold moves, Mnangagwa’s “fight” against corruption might just be a farce if what is obtaining during the trials of those implicated is anything to go by.
More than half the officials and former Cabinet ministers arrested so far are still to be tried for the offences.
Chombo is one of the first former ministers to be hauled before the courts and is facing a plethora of criminal abuse of office charges, criminal nuisance, fraud, violating the Prevention of Corruption Act amongst others.
His trial appears to be far from commencing after the High Court granted him an indefinite stay of prosecution pending his Constitutional Court (Con-Court) application to have all charges against him permanently resolved.
In the Con-Court application, the former Finance minister argued that his constitutional rights were violated when he was detained by soldiers after being apprehended by the Zimbabwe Defence Forces during Operation Restore Legacy.
Chombo’s Con-Court application is stalling other trials where he is a co-accused including one in which he is jointly accused with Kudzanai Chipanga, Matthew Muleya and Innocent Munyaradzi Hamandishe
after they were photographed wearing Zanu PF regalia together.
The trial of Local government ministry employees Lazarus Chimba and Rejoice Pazvakavambwa, who are accused of illegally facilitating the transfer of Harare City Council property into Chombo’s name, also failed to kick off after Kasema indicated that they intend to jointly charge the trio.
Kasema said it will also be difficult to proceed to trial due to the temporary reprieve for prosecution.
Consequently, magistrate Estere Chivasa removed Chimba and Pazvakavambwa from remand and said the State will proceed by way of summons.
In the case of Kasukuwere, trial proceedings have also been halted pending a High Court outcome where he sought to stop trial and review of presiding magistrate Hosea Mujaya’s decision to throw out his application for excerption.
Through his lawyer Thembinkosi Magwaliba, Kasukuwere has filed one application after the other, prompting Zivanai Macharaga of the special graft probe team to accuse him of delaying what he called “the day of reckoning.”
“If the application is granted it will uphold the application the excerption by the accused person. This would mean that there are no valid criminal charges to be faced by the accused person,” Magwaliba said.
In a few cases where officials have been tried and convicted, the State seems to be playing a “catch and release game” where the convicts are jailed and released on appeal.
The only former minister who has been tried and convicted of criminal abuse of office is Undenge, who was jailed four years after he directed the Zimbabwe power Company (ZPC) to work with Fruitful Communications owned by former Zanu PF MP Psychology Maziwisa and broadcaster Oscar Pambuka.
Pambuka and Maziwisa have also been sentenced to 30 months for defrauding ZPC of $12 000 and were released on bail pending appeal less than a week after conviction.
Following his conviction and subsequent sentencing, Undenge approached the High Court where he was granted bail pending appeal.
Days after his release, Undenge was slapped with fresh charges where it was alleged that he awarded a ZPC’s Gwanda solar project tender to businessman Wicknel Chivayo’s Intratrek.
On December 10, Undenge was acquitted of the charges after magistrate Barbra Chimboza ruled that the state failed to prove its case beyond any reasonable doubt.
Judging by the Undenge, Maziwisa and Pambuka cases, analysts said the State may be playing a catch and release game to create the illusion that Mnangagwa is genuine about his anti- corruption crusade.
It remains to be seen whether public officials currently before the courts on corruption-related charges will be convicted of the crimes.