STATE enterprises are failing to meet the public interest perspective in so far as the provision of goods and services for socio-economic development is concerned, experts have said.
BY Byron Mutingwende
The sentiments were echoed during a policy dialogue organised by Transparency International Zimbabwe (TIZ)’s Ethics and Accountability Forum unit held in the capital recently.
The discussion focused on the 2014 Annual State of Corruption Report — a yearly series of comprehensive sector-specific studies of corruption in Zimbabwe by TIZ.
“The ultimate objective of these annual studies and publications is to document and provide qualitative and quantitative insights into specific sectors that are pivotal to the transitional process of Zimbabwe. This is useful to identify
sector-specific solutions as part of a national strategy against corruption in Zimbabwe,” said TIZ board member Blessing Gorejena in her opening remarks while facilitating the discussion.
She added that the dialogue was meant to provide a platform for discussion between stakeholders on issues of ethics, governance, transparency and accountability in the public sector; to provide them an opportunity to make recommendations to improve the management and operation of the enterprises and to promote a culture of debate and dialogue on key pertinent and emerging issues.
Sharing his insights on how the shortfalls reflected in the report can be addressed, Takura Zhangazha, a social and political analyst and media expert, said the report was important in that it focused on the functions and ethical (or lack of it) conduct of State-owned enterprises (SOEs).
“This is a report that is both interesting and depressing because it correctly depicts the reality that all is not well in the 78 or so State enterprises that operate in the country. From its summation of the manner in which salary scales for chief executive officers were borderline ridiculous, unclear tender procedures through to its articulation of lack of accountability and transparency, this report sets out a daunting task for policymakers and members of the public to rectify these unfortunate anomalies in how State enterprises are managed,” Zhangazha said.
He said an important aspect of the report that emerged was the structural question of how SOEs are managed.
“The key question around this touches on the problems of political interference, militarisation and multiple regulation of the State enterprises by different line ministries. These essential challenges of SOE administration, and as correctly cited in the report under consideration invariably lead to a lack of transparency and corruption.”
Zhangazha said the report calls for structural re-alignment of the regulatory framework for State enterprises to make it independently managed; privatisation; raising the cost of corruption and further training for employees. He said the privatisation of most State enterprises had led to the commercialisation of public goods and services like water, electricity, health and education.
“So we need to act on imbuing a sense of democratic public interest service to our parastatals that goes beyond the legal and builds a broader democratic culture of accountability.
“This would mean the panacea would not be wholesale privatisation/commercialisation or re-nationalisation of the State enterprises, but to demonstrate their primary necessity in the process of providing goods and services to the majority poor in the society. That way, accountability would then become part and parcel of expectations of service with citizens going out of their way to defend these State enterprises against corruption of any kind.”
Reflecting on the report, former Minister of Finance and leader of Mavambo/Kusile/Dawn political party Simba Makoni said that the fact that most State enterprises like the National Railways of Zimbabwe, Zesa and Grain Marketing Board (GMB) are no longer providing goods and services might mean that their continued existence is no longer important.
“We must look at the expected outcomes as provided for by the framework and governance structures of these State enterprises and find ways of investments meant to resuscitate parastatals, like GMB. The report is thorough and detailed in that it highlights rampant political intervention and militarisation of State enterprises for cronyism,” Makoni said.
Makoni said the high levels of secrecy and opaqueness in running of the affairs of these State enterprises were leading to incompetence and failure in their performances. He said there were clear principles governing the operation of such entities but there was deliberate unwillingness to comply with clear guidelines like the timely production of annual financial reports.
“This culture of politics whereby leadership is not responsible and accountable to the public and concentrates power and command in itself must be replaced by an inclusive and accountable political culture. We fail not because there are no proper systems and procedures governing public finance management, but because there is no will to do so,” Makoni said.
He said there should be a growing thrust around stakeholder activism on the part of shareholders, parliamentarians, civil society organisations and professionals to impose accountability in State enterprises.
Contributing from the floor, Nancy Kachambwa said the report must also talk about the role played by the public in contributing financial resources to the State enterprises and make a distinction between public entities that have not been reported to be corrupt and those embroiled in the vice.
Mabvuku-Tafara Member of the House of Assembly James Maridadi bemoaned the fact that ministers who presided over most of the SOEs disrespected the oversight role of Parliament’s committee on public accounts by refusing to appear before it to give evidence on corruption. He claimed that they regarded SOEs as their feeding troughs.
Former Cabinet minister Fay Chung said there was need for structural adjustment to strengthen the State and give it power to regulate the State enterprises and for it to cut on its expenditure on revenue generated by the public entities.