Source: Zimbabwe: How to rob a country | The Financial Gazette October 20, 2016
By Eddie Cross
TRANSPARENCY International issued a briefing this week claiming that corruption is costing Zimbabwe US$1 billion a year. I have no doubt that they are right.
The question that needs answering is how, where and who is involved. This is not an easy question to answer. Corrupt activities are very difficult to tie down in any sort of legal sense and most anti-corruption activists advise that we go after the money and do not try to secure the prosecution of the culprits.
I can sympathise with that view. In 1983/85 I discovered a US$6 million theft from the company I managed and I spent three years trying to get justice and to recover the money. Eventually all we recovered was the cost of the exercise and the satisfaction of knowing how they did it and who was involved. Bank secrecy was a problem, the protective shield that many countries have erected around funds held by banks and other financial institutions and extended to the perpetrators were all obstacles.
In the same period the company I led concluded a contract to supply products to the Angolan government. The contract was worth millions of dollars and when I tried to close the deal with letters of credit, a demand was made to me, by an official, to pay 15 percent into a Swiss Bank account. I objected and was instructed by the Reserve Bank in Harare to “negotiate”. I did so and got the deal down to five percent and it went ahead without any further problems.
In 2012, I did an exposé on the Marange diamond fields and disclosed that raw diamond production had exceeded 35 million carats in one year worth over US$4 billion.
The President has subsequently admitted that US$15 billion has “disappeared”. Transparency International estimate that African states lose perhaps US$60 billion a year to corrupt practices and this might actually be an underestimate.
In Angola, about a third of the total gross earnings of the oil industry is skimmed off by the regime in power. Angola supplies about eight percent of global crude oil needs and this involves many billions of dollars in revenue every year. The daughter of the President of Angola is reputed to be the richest women in the world. She has her own executive jet and owns major assets all over the world. Nigerian corruption is massive and also involves the oil industry. Many major western companies are complicit.
So how does the Zimbabwe regime and its acolytes steal US$1 billion a year from a bankrupt State and economy, which cannot provide Aspirin to patients in hospitals?
When it comes to stealing, leaders are sophisticated and clever. If you follow the trail of money from the Marange diamond fields, you end up in Hong Kong and other financial centres in the Middle East. Front companies, shadowy boards of directors with strange names and the odd glimpse of a Zimbabwean shirt tail disappearing around the corner. Suddenly Zimbabweans are found to own luxury homes, private jets, office blocks in rich urban centres with no visible source of funds from legitimate activity.
It is a dangerous game and I can identify at least two prominent Zimbabweans who were assassinated as a result of their threat to the theft of Marange diamond revenues. Following my own disclosures in the House of Assembly in 2012, I was threatened with death by State agents and subsequently had at least two attempts on my life. I provided the police with names, ID numbers and force numbers as well as sworn affidavits regarding the threats and the incidents — with absolutely no results; clearly showing State involvement.
But what are they doing right now to steal funds from the country? The following list of different schemes and an estimate of the funds involved is purely my own list. I am sure others might identify additional scams and provide more detail, but the list above shows what might be going on at present and who the main beneficiaries might be.
The fuel operation is mainly conducted in Singapore where the great majority of payments for bulk fuel supplies are routed. This is shown in the trade statistics for 2014 and 2015 when the deal was put in place using the monopoly of the pipeline from Beira to Harare. Maybe it is being boosted by other scams involving substandard fuel, fuel imports by rail and road from South Africa on a duty free basis or imports for fuel under false documentation. The impact is seen at the pump where prices are substantially above other countries in the region.
Border post corruption is both organised and sophisticated as well as simply mass smuggling by individuals and companies. With US$6 billion in imports annually only US$380 million is collected.
On vehicles alone border duties should be US$600 million. This is illustrated by the incident involving the commissioner of taxes — who was caught driving a new luxury vehicle imported as a second-hand small Toyota sedan. The recent introduction of controls on trade have not impacted the volume one iota — but have provided many new opportunity for corruption.
The Marange diamond fields are still yielding diamonds, but at a much lower level. I hear that new deposits have been discovered and the consolidation of all diamond mining companies has been achieved using a mixture of intimidation and force.
The Grain Marketing Board (GMB) corruption is massive and is centred on import permits and the ability of GMB to inflate prices and skim off surplus funds from imports, which today average 1,7 million tonnes a year. Maize, wheat and soya prices at the GMB are all substantially above import parities.
The corruption at road blocks, I estimate doubles the revenues from fines at road blocks — these average US$3 million a month. The fines revenue goes into financing the needs of the police force, while the corrupt activities of some in the police goes into buying cars and mini buses as well as other luxury items and even homes. I know of a real estate agent who recently dealt with a policeman who wanted to pay for his purchase in small notes collected at road blocks.
The rest is in all other forms of corruption —tenders, inflated values for services to State owned companies like Air Zimbabwe (insurance contracts). But even this short list shows what is involved – when you compare this total to the budget for education (US$1,1 billion) and health (US$330 million) you can appreciate the cost to the country – especially at a time like this.
Eddie Cross is MDC MP for Bulawayo South. This article first appeared on his website www.eddiecross.africanherd.com