Daniel Nemukuyu Investigations Editor
Britain has thrown its weight behind Zimbabwe’s anti-corruption fight saying concerted effort is vital in rooting out graft as this is a global challenge that has ravaged economies across the world.
It is estimated that Zimbabwe loses about US$1,8 billion a year due to corruption and other illegal financial activities.
Speaking at the launch of a two-day national workshop on whistle-blower protection in Harare yesterday, British Ambassador Melanie Robinson said her Government will support Zimbabwe in the fight against corruption.
The British Foreign and Commonwealth Office is funding the anti-corruption programme to implement the United Nations Convention Against Corruption (UNCAC), the only legally binding universal anti-graft instrument.
Zimbabwe is a signatory to UNCAC, having signed the treaty in 2004 and ratified it in 2007.
The British Government has since contributed at least £8 million towards implementation of UNCAC.
To implement the UNCAC recommendations, Zimbabwe met six other Southern African countries in Zambia in 2019 where they set up a regional platform to enhance their anti-graft war.
Zimbabwe, Zambia, Namibia, South Africa, Mozambique, Malawi and Botswana identified four thematic areas based on recommendations by UNCAC after its first review cycle of the member states: inter-agency cooperation on prosecution and investigation of corruption cases, asset disclosure, whistle-blowing and identifying and managing conflict of interest in public procurement.
The Zimbabwe Anti-Corruption Commission (ZACC) also came up with an Anti-Corruption Strategy which was launched by President Mnangagwa in July this year.
This strategy calls for whistle blower protection, asset disclosure, inter-agency cooperation among others to win the anti-graft war.
ZACC is now pressing hard for laws that will protect whistle-blowers fully, even if they are wrong but acting in good faith.
In her address at the opening of the whistle-blower protection workshop, Ambassador Robinson said she was heartened by Zimbabwe’s commitment to fighting corruption.
“As the ambassador here in Zimbabwe, I was particularly heartened to hear from the honourable chairperson (ZACC chair), Zimbabwe’s commitment to fighting corruption.
“We, as the UK, share your conviction that tackling corruption is critical to unlocking the potential of Zimbabwe’s people and its resources, increasing stability and attracting high quality investment, whether from UK or elsewhere.
“We will continue to support your efforts. I look forward to hearing, after this workshop, plans you have to follow up in concrete terms. I look forward to hearing how you plan to implement your commitment to whistle-blower legislation and turning it into a reality.
“I am interested to hear what steps you want to take to improve your inter-agency coordination, whether with the police, prosecutors or in the prevention space, re-enforcing and implementation of the auditor general’s recommendations.
“It was a delight having a conversation with you, before this event, about the progress you are making and really look forward to hear how you will take further steps to drive this forward,” she said.
“Let me finish by saying that corruption is a challenge globally, and so concerted effort is required if we are to make real progress in tackling it. It is vital that we come together in forums like this to stimulate dialogue and share good practice.
“As a convenor of the global community and a vehicle for sharing collaboration, UNODC (United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime) has a crucial role to play. We must continue to work together with the civil society, private sector and the academia and of course with our governments in order to root out corruption,” she said.
Justice, Legal and Parliamentary Affairs Minister Ziyambi Ziyambi said there was need for a law that protects whistle-blowers in order to achieve a corruption-free Zimbabwe.
In a speech read on his behalf, Minister Ziyambi said the sections of the law relied upon in trying to protect whistle-blowers and witnesses were inadequate to the demands of the modern day anti-graft initiatives.
“As the State, we had to rely on Section 319B of the Criminal Procedure and Evidence Act which provides for protection of vulnerable witnesses before the courts that may be subjected to intimidation and the threat of harm . . .
“This has been inadequate to the demands of the modern day anti-corruption initiatives hence the urgent need for all stakeholders to contribute to the development of more effective legislation,” he said.
Whistle-blowers were being subjected to harassment and victimisation by the powerful corruption perpetrators, hence the urgent need for a robust legal framework to protect them.
“Employees, volunteers, consultants, contractors or any other professionals in various sectors, if such individual ‘blows the whistle’ to illicit activities within organisations that they are attached or employed in, have been left vulnerable by gaps that have existed in our laws.
“These gaps have hamstrung many possible fights against corruption in Zimbabwe and have left whistle-blowers at the risk of retaliation. This lack of a robust legal framework to protect the whistle-blower has discouraged any potential whistle-blowing,” said Minister Ziyambi.
ZACC chairperson Justice Loice Matanda-Moyo said corruption was bleeding the economy.
“It is estimated that Zimbabwe loses about US$1,8 billion annually due to corruption. Such illicit flows bleed the economy of revenue meant to promote sustainable socio-economic development and the betterment of livelihoods of all people.
“This leaves Government with little or no resources to fulfil its obligations,” she said.
She said Government was already working on establishing a legal framework for whistle-blowers’ protection after ZACC drafted a laybill.
“Therefore, the existence of a whistle-blower legislation is imperative to combat corruption. As a nation in its economic recovery path, it is our priority to have an enabling environment for both domestic and foreign investment.
“Lessons learnt from our sister countries in the region have demonstrated that investment increases where there are strong law enforcement institutions, independent judiciary and mechanisms that allow for whistle-blowers and witness protection among others,” said Justice Matanda Moyo.
United Nations Resident coordinator in Zimbabwe Ms Maria do Valle Ribeiro said the whistle-blower law was critical in the fight against corruption.
“Whistle-blower protection is absolutely required to safeguard the public interest and to promote a culture of public accountability and integrity. The risk of corruption is significantly heightened in environments where the reporting of wrongdoing is not supported or protected.
“Minister, I recall that on July 11, 2020, the Government of Zimbabwe adopted the National Anti-Corruption Strategy, which amongst other issues, requires Government to develop legislation on whistle-blower protection.
“I am more encouraged that under your leadership, we are today gathered here to witness the process that seeks to crystallize the aspirations of this Strategy,” she said.
Ms Ribeiro said international instruments such as UNCAC Corruption acknowledge the importance of having whistle-blower protection laws in place as part of an effective anti-corruption framework.
“Many countries are beginning to have such legislation in place. Legislation is an important aspect, especially if it contains key elements that are essential for whistle-blower protection.
“Indeed, the Government of Zimbabwe requires to have such legislation. I believe this event was primarily organised to kickstart such process,” she said.
Ms Ribeiro said the UN will continue supporting Zimbabwe in the fight against corruption.