Need to restore trust in public institutions

Need to restore trust in public institutions

Source: Need to restore trust in public institutions | Herald (Opinion)

Munyaradzi Mlambo Correspondent
One of the key tasks the new administration of President Emmerson Mnangagwa faces is that of restoring citizens’ trust in public institutions. Indeed, trust is often quipped to be the glue that holds together society. When institutions that act as the bedrock on which civilised societies are built are distrusted to deliver their mandate, chaos ensues.

In essence, they give birth to disillusionment and even despondency in a society as a result.

Consider how public trust in the Zimbabwe Republic Police had eroded before Operation Restore Legacy.

It is common knowledge that the police service was no longer performing its duties as per what is expected of and required by the supreme law.

All sorts of egregious things took place in the police service under the leadership of former Commissioner -General Augustine Chihuri.

Traffic police became pile drivers of corruption with the force generating millions of dollars from spot fines that would not be properly accounted for.

It was also clear that training was lacking in the ZRP as shown by members who displayed lack of basic knowledge of the law when handling otherwise trivial matters.

But it is the top cops who were drenched in serious corrupt activities. Allegations are that the top hierarchy wilfully violated tender processes to award themselves mega money tenders.

The process to select representatives going for observer missions was also marred by lack of transparency and bribery. It is alleged that the top hierarchy would demand and receive bribes from those wishing to go for observer mission duties outside the country.

Upon return from such tour of duty, which comes with lucrative financial rewards, the cops would “contribute” to the top brass as a way of thanking them.

But the most worrying thing is that the ZRP had apparently been captured by some political elites and were used to fulfil parochial political interests. They had become acolytes and devotees of a cabal who, according to President Mnangagwa, had become law unto themselves and operated as per the instructions they would receive.

Hence, it was incumbent upon the Government to show its firm resolve in restoring normal functionality of police service by retiring a number of police top brass that had presided over the rot of the entire force element.

The exercise marked the intensification of efforts by President Mnangagwa’s administration to cleanse public institutions of corruption and prime them for execution of duty and work consistent with the new order.

No wonder there was disappointment when the Government decided to rescind the dismissal of some of the top cops who were either perceived to be corrupt themselves or were accomplices to the corrupt activities.

President Mnangagwa’s zero tolerance approach to corruption promotes trust and confidence in his Government to do things differently. This can be further attested by his latest bold move to have Government ministers declare their assets. This is meant to unearth potential conflict of interest while arresting any chances of using public office for personal enrichment by the ministers.

For years, people assigned to work in public offices were not being held accountable for their oftentimes questionable conduct.

In fact, some of them would be shielded from having their day in court by even higher political muscles to answer for cases of abuse of office, despite availability of overwhelming evidence.

Many remember Professor Jonathan Moyo being “acquitted” on charges of abusing Zimdef funds by former First Lady Grace Mugabe at a political rally, despite insistence by the Zimbabwe Anti-Corruption Commission that he had a case to answer.

Heads of Government-controlled entities would award themselves hefty salaries at the expense of ailing companies. Although the Auditor-General’s annual reports always brought into spotlight these issues, no action was taken by the Government.

The administration should leave no stone unturned to ensure that there is accountability and public office holders are performing as is required of them under the Constitution.

In order to win back the trust of the masses in public institutions, the Government must closely monitor how they operate.

Firstly, the Government must develop a mechanism to monitor the operations of public institutions and put in place systems to bolster transparency in their operation.

Such measures are critical in abolishing corruption and curbing the misappropriation of funds, which had become a new normal in the previous era.

Parastatals must be treated like any other business whose performance must be measured. This means taking corrective measures such as restructuring failed management or outright disposing of perennially under-performing entities.

At the moment, a majority of these institutions are carrying deadwood as incompetent leadership continues in the driving seat. The Government must not hesitate to show these the exit door for the sake of national progress.

With public institutions, there is need for constant streamlined management and accountability, while the Government is focusing on major projects such as the provision of better service, alleviation of poverty and infrastructure development for improved urban and rural communities, educational facilities and health institutions.

Situations where developmental funds are diverted to luxurious goods for executives can no-longer be tolerated. Leniency must be sacrificed for the greater good and lifestyle audits must be conducted to ensure scummy businesspeople pay their fair share of taxes.

Justice must be served swiftly and impartially. The Sunday Mail recently carried a story where a businessman who won a tender to build a solar power station in Gwanda and was paid $5 million upfront years ago for pre-commence works has not done so yet.

The businessman in question publicly brags that he is untouchable due to his political connections. He seems to be getting away with it.

It is such instances that lead to citizens losing trust in public institutions’ capacity to deliver.

President Mnangagwa’s Government has already demonstrated zero tolerance to selective application of the law. We have already seen big names being arrested and answering to various offenses committed during their office stints. As we speak, the net is tightening on various people who externalised funds and caused cash shortages in the country.

The Government should also help in restoring trust in the private sector. Private companies are major perpetrators of externalisation crimes, price collusion and evasion of taxes with a couple having already been fingered in such activities in the past. Such economic crimes must attract stern penalties.

There is confidence everywhere that things are returning to normalcy. In the new era, it’s either you shape up or you ship out.

Munyaradzi Mlambo is a journalist and blogger. Feedback