via National interest: Much abused fig leaf for corruption? – NewsDay November 4, 2015
The Constitutional Court (ConCourt) recently found Prosecutor-General Johannes Tomana guilty of disregarding court orders. The furious court unanimously sentenced him to a suspended 30-day prison term on condition he complies with the court order within 10 days. In normal societies, the rebuke of such a senior government officer, at this level, ought to trigger the officer’s resignation, or his dismissal by the Executive, if not his impeachment by Parliament. But none of the above may happen. And that is a sign to the world that insidious corruption is holding the State of Zimbabwe hostage. The State is under siege.
BY Tapiwa Nyandoro
The House of Assembly and Executive’s behaviour outside the courtroom in response to the court case was, as the National Prosecuting Authority’s attitude to court orders, equally repugnant. Vice-President Emmerson Mnangagwa steered a bill through Parliament that sought to shield the Prosecutor-General’s activities from judicial reviews if challenged. That wouldn’t be in the national interest.
For too long, however, “national interest may have clouded the judiciary. The result, which may now be apparent to the bench, is the failed State that they serve. On the day (last Wednesday) that the ConCourt delivered its bold judgment, three Zimbabwean white farmers from a pool of 50, now settled in Mozambique, were interviewed by Al Jazeera.
The farmers, kicked out of Zimbabwe at the height of the land reform programme, with the questionable blessing of the Zimbabwean bench, now produce food for Mozambique and for export abroad and to their former home, Zimbabwe. They have created employment, with one 450-hectare farm employing 150 to 350 workers depending on season. They and their employees pay their taxes and earn Mozambique much-needed hard currency.
Their privileged positions in Zimbabwe, especially their education, and their experience on the farm, collectively worth over
$50 million, is Zimbabwe’s gift to Mozambique. Contrary to some new farmers, of far lesser value, they carry out their farming, without demanding zero taxation, tariff and non-tariff protection, inflated producer prices, free farming inputs, free farm machinery, free labour, free farming expertise, and free electricity, not to mention defaulting on loans. They are assets, not liabilities.
In a good season, between the 50 Zimbabweans, they may well produce the equivalent of a quarter of a million tonnes of maize valued over $50 million on 25 000 arable hectares per annum. Was kicking such skills, such home-grown assets, out of the country in the national interest? At the time the bench may have thought so. Now with calloused hands and little to show from it except debts, some on the bench may have a different opinion. Judges must be well paid to make sure they concentrate on their tasks and not run around pretending to be farmers or bus owners.
Press reports quote the ConCourt saying the two cases the PG had brought to court, after disobeying court orders related to them, “had nothing to do with national interest that might have warranted Tomana (the PG) to decline the issuance of private prosecution certificates”. That of course begs the question: “Who decides what is in the national interest?”
When then Prime Minister Stephen Harper of Canada, sought and received Parliament’s approval for bombing raids against ISIS in Iraq , he thought it was in Canada’s national interest. Current Canadian Prime Minister, Justin Trudeau is going to terminate the bombings. He thinks that is not in the national interest. George Bush Jnr invaded Iraq to topple Saddam Hussein. He thought that was in the (American) national interest. His successor, President Barack Obama, ran his presidential election campaign on withdrawing from the Iraq quagmire having opposed its invasion while a Senator. He thought his position was in the national interest. Tony Blair’s government refused to honour payments to fund the Zimbabwe land reform programme that previously had been funded by the Thatcher government. The two contradictory positions were, according to each leader, in the British national interest. Once it was in Zimbabwe’s national interest to harass and kick out white Zimbabwean farmers; now, it is not. After a 10-year period government is attending predominantly white Commercial Farmers’ Union meetings, singing a different, more progressive tune. These examples show there is no place for a judiciary or public servants to decide what is in the national interest outside the law. The question is best left to Parliament and its boss; the electorate. Even then, functional moral compasses are a necessity. Otherwise Parliament, or for that matter an inappropriately active judiciary, supposedly acting in the “national interest”, risk legalising corruption, as Daniel Kaufmann (Finance and Development – September 2015) knows very well.
He writes: “Traditional corruption is defined in terms of individual public officials who abuse public office for private gain. But corruption has wider reach. It is a costly symptom of institutional failure, often involving a network of politicians, organisations, companies, and private individuals colluding to benefit from access to power, public resources, and policy making at the expense of the public good.”
A lot that is unsavoury has been done in the “national interest”. In the Ziscosteel search for an equity technical partner, the Executive interfered in the bid adjudication in the “national interest”. The recent reckless intervention by two Ministers will also be attributed to “national interest”. It is time to say no to this false excuse.
The PG’s misfortune may signal a turning point in Zimbabwe’s fortunes. The judiciary may have found its spine and its moral compass. Hopefully the police, the Central Intelligence Organisation, the Executive and the Legislature are next in line in the interest of the nation.