Ray Bande in MUTARE
THE Zimbabwe Anti-Corruption Commission has been losing highly skilled workers trained in investigating cases of corruption, especially cyber crimes, making it harder to track down and deal with sophisticated criminals.
There is also witness fatigue and lack of witness protection, opening the door for some high-profile individuals accused of corruption to escape prosecution and punishment.
While ZACC was investing heavily in training investigating officers, too many were leaving for “greener pastures” in other sectors or countries.
In a wide ranging interview on the sidelines of a ZACC strategic review workshop here, Commission chair Justice Loice Matanda-Moyo conceded that the high number of resignations was a major challenge.
“Initially, it was a skills challenge, but we then managed to recruit skilled personnel. But now it is about retaining the skilled personnel especially after training. We have been training our officers in crimes involving cyberspace.
“With the advancement of technology, most of the crimes are now being committed with the use of technology so the Commission has been training officers along those lines.
“After being trained they become marketable and are wanted in other sectors or countries. So this has been our major challenge of late.
“We are also doing everything possible to encourage our officers to stay and we are teaching them that this is a national job. While we are advocating better salaries, we are also trying to inculcate the idea that they should also be inspired by the desire to see a better Zimbabwe,” she said.
Justice Matanda-Moyo said the catch and release problem of accused persons in high-profile corruption cases was fuelled by witness fatigue and lack of witness protection, but this was being dealt with by the enactment of the Public Interest Disclosure (Protection of Whistle-blowers) Act.
“The absence of legislation that protects whistleblowers and witnesses scares away potential witnesses or whistleblowers especially in high-profile cases where they can endanger their lives.
“There are also cases of accused persons being acquitted because of witness fatigue and lack of witness protection. As you know currently we do not have a witness and whistleblower protection law in Zimbabwe. That in itself scares away possible witnesses or whistleblowers especially in high profile cases,” said Justice Matanda-Moyo.
“I am happy to say that the principles of that piece of legislation have been adopted by Cabinet and the Attorney-General’s Office is now preparing the Bill for presentation to Parliament. So very soon we are going to see this piece of legislation, which is very crucial, being enacted.
“Once it is in place, the catch and release will be a thing of the past. We have had cases involving high-profile persons and witnesses shunning coming to court because they were scared.
“They felt that they were not protected at all. So we feel that the witnesses need to be protected so that all evidence is presented in court and culprits are brought to book.”
The envisaged Public Interest Disclosure (Protection of Whistle-blowers) Act is widely expected to help the country fight corruption by giving informers confidence to expose graft without fear.
Under the proposed law, ZACC staffers who leak names or identify whistleblowers will face jail terms of up to six months along with ordinary disciplinary action under legal amendments proposed by the Commission.
At the same time, ZACC will not protect those who deliberately and maliciously make false reports against others, pretending to be whistleblowers.
The proposed draft amendment to the Act under which ZACC operates, which has since been sent to the Office of the President and Cabinet, seeks to promote a culture of reporting all corrupt activities without fear of victimisation and with full protection for whistleblowers.
The concealment of the whistleblowers’ identities is expected to stop the problem of witnesses in high-profile graft cases at parastatals being harassed through suspensions, transfers, or at times being charged on frivolous allegations aimed at crippling ZACC investigations.
Justice Matanda-Moyo said the catch and release conception of ZACC operations is also partly a product of general or public misunderstanding of court processes.
“The catch and release is almost a song now in the country but this emanates from misunderstanding of court procedures. It is mainly emanating from bail procedures. When culprits are granted bail the public takes it as if they have been acquitted.
“Bail applications are simply a process where the court decides whether a person is fit to stand trial coming from home or has to face trial coming from remand prison.
“The considerations are only whether the person will be able to avail themselves for trial. If evidence is overwhelming that the person can face trial coming from home, then the law demands that the person faces trial coming from home.
“If you look at other cases, most people are being convicted coming from home. Take the case of the former Permanent Secretary for Mines, Professor Francis Gudyanga, who was convicted of criminal abuse office. He was coming to court from home. So catch and release is a phenomenon of misunderstanding of court procedures,” she said.
Justice Matanda Moyo said her Commission was making efforts to improve on technology to keep pace with offenders.
“We are moving towards that direction. As you know we are in the era of technology. We have just established our electronic case management system which we are now using but we now want to link it to Zimra, ZRP, Central Vehicle Registry and even the courts.
“We really need to embrace technology in fighting corruption so that we do not unnecessarily lose documents. The manual system is very cumbersome. You may think you have the crucial documents and the next day you lose them because somebody has stolen them.
“But right now we are moving towards effective use of technology and I am happy that right now we are moving in the right direction although more still needs to be done,” she said.