BY MIRIAM MANGWAYA
A CUNNING tout yesterday demanded a bribe from Home Affairs minister Kazembe Kazembe , who had gone undercover to the Registrar-General’s Offices in Harare in an effort to unmask corruption at the government institution.
Kazembe told the Parliamentary Committee on Defence, Home Affairs and Security Services that he went to the Harare Civil Registry offices disguising as an ordinary passport seeker where a tout sold him a place in the front of the queue for US$30. The suspect identified as Avito Newton (40) was immediately arrested.
Police confirmed the incident in a tweet yesterday, saying: “ The ZRP confirms that the Minister of Home Affairs and Cultural Heritage effected an arrest on Avito Newton (40) at Makombe Building, Harare, for criminals activities on 29/04/21 at about 0645hrs.
“The minister overheard the suspect touting for persons who wanted to be assisted in obtaining passport application forms at a cost of US$30 before inviting the suspect to his motor vehicle, acting as if he wanted to be assisted.
“The suspect was handed over US$50 which he took and started to negotiate with the minister on passport acquisition and was subsequently arrested.”
The minister admitted before the committee that corruption was rampant at the registry offices, especially in the issuance of passports, hence the need to computerise the system.
“I wanted to know how it feels to be in that queue at the registry offices and I went there,” Kazembe said.
“I was there early in the morning; that is why I came a bit late for this meeting. What I saw is worrisome. An unfortunate guy sold me a place in the queue because he did not know who I was and I paid the US$30. These are some of the issues we want to address.”
Pictures of Kazembe while in the queue at the passport office went viral on social media yesterday, but the public reacted differently to his attempts to fight graft.
While some commended the minister for his efforts to fight graft, others felt Kazembe’s strategy mirrored how the Zanu PF government was targeting ordinary people, while high-profile culprits were left outside the net.
“That guy provides a service to people who can’t wake up as early as 4am for a passport,” a social media user Ernest Chandafira posted on Twitter.
“Holding a place for someone is not corruption. Corruption happens inside when applications jump queues. The fact that Kazembe thinks holding a place is corruption shows he is out of touch and elitist.”
Children of the Zimbabwe War Veterans Association (Cozwa) slammed Newton’s arrest, saying unemployment pushed him to engage in the business of selling positions in queues.
“We have noted with great disappointment the arrest of our member at the Passport Office by minister Kazembe,” Cozwa said.
“We would like to inform the public that the accused wakes up at 2am to get a position, then later sells it. Government must acknowledge that there are no jobs. That is his means of survival,” Cozwa said.
Zimbabwe Coalition on Debt and Development programmes manager John Maketo said by arresting a suspect in his own capacity, Kazembe was exposing incompetence of the police in fighting crime in the community.
“The act of fact-finding mission speaks volumes with regards to government units that have been exposed in this mess,” he said. “It does not need a whole minister to establish this rampant corruption. The minister has just exposed his staff in their shortcomings, if he could do it, those touts can be wiped out in less than a week by committed undercover police. Heightened commitment to eradicate corruption by government is commendable, but should be coupled with prosecutions and sentencing of offenders, not just catch and release. What happened to the Drax International scandal that cost the nation millions of dollars? Commitment is needed at that level as well in order to eradicate corruption.”
Anti-corruption watchdogs have blamed the government for promoting a culture of impunity in dealing with high-profile graft cases, hence continued leakage of public funds despite the existence of several institutions that fight corruption.
Last year, Zimbabwe scored 24% in the corruption perception index compiled by Transparency International Zimbabwe and was ranked 157 out of 180 countries in terms of fighting corruption.
Several high-profile people have been arraigned before the courts on corruption allegations. These include former Cabinet ministers Obadiah Moyo and Priscah Mupfumira, who were fired on corruption allegations but their trials are yet to kick off.
In September last year, Zimbabwe Human Rights Commission, an independent human rights institution, launched an inquiry into access to documentation and noted that at least two million people in the country were failing to obtain identity documents due to the cumbersome processes and rampant corruption at the registry offices.
At the committee meeting, legislators raised concern over limited access to national identity documents, a key requirements for voter registration.
Kazembe said his ministry was facing a serious shortage of consumables to issue the documents and was limiting the number of applicants, giving priority to schoolchildren and urgent cases.
“My ministry is faced with a challenge of issuance of polythene synthetic identity cards. This has been due to a shortage of consumables which require foreign currency, but Treasury is addressing the issue,” Kazembe said.
“Some registry offices have stopped issuing polythene identity documents and resorted to issuing green waiting passes to applicants. To address that, the Home Affairs ministry will conduct a nationwide mobile registration exercise when resources are available.”
Kazembe said the ministry had a backlog of 225 747 passports, dating back to 2019, which was caused by the COVID-19 lockdown.
He said his ministry had introduced double shifts at the registry offices to improve issuance of the identity documents in an effort to clear the backlog.