Can we entrust Mugabe with this clear-cut case against Undenge?

TWO events of the past week have once again shown the pandemic levels of corruption in the ruling party — Zanu PF. Corruption cannot be more systemic than that.

Source: Can we entrust Mugabe with this clear-cut case against Undenge? – NewsDay Zimbabwe May 20, 2016

Conway Tutani

And delays and obstructionism are employed to let the bigwigs off the hook. We have cover-ups of industrial proportions. Yes, cover-ups have become an industry in their own right. It becomes even more horrifying to think that we are only talking of one out of 27 ministries. This puts the scale and extent of it all into perspective.

It was quite comical to read Energy minister Samuel Undenge’s responses as he tried to wriggle out after being cornered over his questionable role in two clear cases of grand corruption at Zesa Holdings’ subsidiary, Zimbabwe Power Company (ZPC). The minister, it has been proved, has been a busybody, meddling in matters to do with the day-to-day running of ZPC and Zesa, instructing them to make payments to individuals in contravention of laid-down procedures.

Asked by a reporter why he had instructed ZPC to hire Fruitful Communications, a firm linked to Zanu PF MP Psychology Maziwisa, to carry out a media campaign despite the fact that Zesa has its own public relations department for that specific purpose, Undenge claimed this was not necessarily for payment, saying: “It’s just like you — you write a story, but we do not pay you.”

Well, minister, this is a false parallel. The public pays the media by freely or voluntarily buying its products and advertising space and time and can withdraw that custom as and when they feel like. This is a symbiotic relationship, not the incestuous relationship where you expressly instruct ZPC and Zesa to hire your favoured firm in a clear case of abuse of public office and duty, which, in a State where there is equality before the law, is punishable by a lengthy jail sentence, nothing less than that.

When Undenge realised the paper trail went all the way up to him, all he could say was: “It will now be a prerogative of the organisation, nothing to do with the minister.” Yes, the jig was up, the game was over — the whole sordid scheme had been revealed and foiled — but only after several payments had been made to Fruitful Communications.

Only the previous week, the same Undenge made a U-turn over a $5 million illegal tender payment by ZPC to controversial businessman and convicted fraudster Wicknell Chivayo. Undenge had claimed that everything had been done procedurally only days before, but this was far from the truth, because the payment was made without the board’s knowledge.

These two cases clearly point to the fact that there was something in it for Undenge right from the beginning for procedure — including bypassing directors — not to be followed. In all this, Undenge was more than a sleeping partner as he gave unlawful, specific documented instructions to ZPC and Zesa. In fact, he was the prime mover, the initiator. Wrote Undenge to Zesa management before he was caught out telling naked lies: “I have found them (Fruitful Communications) to be incredibly useful in this regard (media campaigns) and, hereby, direct that you work as closely as possible with them at intervals of six months per engagement until 2018.”

Well, well, orders don’t come clearer and firmer than that. This shows Undenge was chiefly responsible for the initiation and execution of the plan.

No one is saying President Robert Mugabe — to be generous to him because he has in the past shielded and forgiven anyone as long as they express total loyalty to him — is responsible for whatever his ministers say and do. But if he doesn’t take decisive steps such as follow-up investigations leading to arrest and prosecution — which he has so far been most reluctant to do — then he leaves people with no choice, but to lump him with corrupt ministers.

These tales of two characters — Chivayo and Maziwisa — give an insight into how the ruling Zanu PF steals and robs from ordinary working people, who have hardly had any breathing space since the 2008 economic meltdown.

Zimbabwe’s economy is facing an existential crisis because of such tenderpreneurs who win tenders unfairly through political connections and provide shoddy or no services at all to communities, while more genuine entrepreneurs are sidelined, along with their skills and proper services. Tenderpreneurships are making a select few wealthy and doing nothing for the population at large.

Maziwisa has been making all the right noises about undying patriotism, but stealing from his very compatriots. Is it not theft when you don’t add value to an organisation, but simply strip it of its financial assets? This is typical of many characters in Zanu PF, who shout themselves hoarse, saying the things they are expected to say when in most cases they do not mean them, but have an ulterior motive: self-enrichment. Maziwisa has been screaming about Western sanctions on Zimbabwe, but what about his own sanctions on Zesa employees? People are smart enough to figure out that many of Zesa’s problems are caused by these characters.

As for Chivayo, yes, we are urgently in need of infusion of funds in every sphere of public life, including football, because the government has gone AWOL, but not if that ignores the fact that most working people face misery and fruitless toil because of such tenderpreneurs like him. The naive among us have been lionising him whereas the likes of him have been robbing the fiscus denying the ordinary Zimbabwean services like affordable education and health. This guy is not an altruist — a person unselfishly concerned for or devoted to the welfare of others. He is more parasitic than generous. They steal from the fiscus, then reinvent themselves and come back as benefactors. Again, people are smart enough to figure this out.

Again many of these people do not file income tax returns. This has led to drastically reduced government revenue, which, in turn, has led to an increase in indirect taxes — like value-added tax — which are the bulk of tax revenue and are levied on fuel, electricity and food. The poor — who are the majority in Zimbabwe — suffer, as indirect taxes do not distinguish between rich and poor. Again, people are smart enough to figure this out.

Again, non-payment of taxes leaves the government with little money to carry out development work as presently 83% of revenue generated through the prevailing tax system is being spent on recurrent expenditure like salaries — leaving little for schools and hospitals.

This, in turn, forces government to rely on commercial loans, and approach international donors like the International Monetary Fund and World Bank, who inject funds on their own terms, which further complicates and jeopardises the economy. Again, people are smart enough to figure this out.

Mr President, let’s deal first with home-bred economic saboteurs like Undenge and his sidekicks Chivayo and Maziwisa.

If nothing is done — as has been the case so far — people are smart enough to figure out that these despicable characters get topmost five-star State protection. Hasn’t Chivayo said as much?

Conway Nkumbuzo Tutani is a Harare-based columnist. Email: