New Anti-Corruption Drive

Legislators are looking at ways to bring corrupt officials to book.

New Anti-Corruption Drive

Legislators are looking at ways to bring corrupt officials to book.

Thursday, 2 April, 2009
Activists are pushing for a proposed new anti-corruption commission, ACC, to fight endemic graft in government and the civil service, to be accorded significant independent powers.

Under the Global Political Agreement, GPA, signed between President Robert Mugabe and leaders of the two Movement for Democratic Change, MDC, factions in September 2008, the three parties are mandated to create an ACC. Its terms of reference would include, among other things, investigating cases of corruption with a view to bringing the culprits to book.

Former ACCs have been packed with ZANU-PF functionaries and described as toothless bulldogs after failing to prosecute senior government and public sector officials.

This was not for a lack of cases to investigate. According to the Corruption Perception Index, CPI, produced by Transparency International in 2006, Zimbabwe was ranked 130 out of the 163 countries on the list, only a few rankings above Africa’s most corrupt nations – Nigeria, Sierra and Kenya, all on 142.

In 2007, the latest available CPI figures, Zimbabwe fared even worse, ranking at 157 out of 163 countries – an indication that corruption continued to permeate the country at the height of political turmoil and jostling between Mugabe’s ZANU-PF and Prime Minister Morgan Tsvangirai’s MDC.

The Zimbabwe parliament on March 27 constituted a committee to look into the formation and composition of a new-look ACC, this time with teeth.

There is already work cut out for the new ACC: some of the ministers and legislators in the new government have already been implicated in corruption. At least ten legislators from ZANU-PF and the MDC have appeared in courts on graft charges.

Not surprisingly, civil society organisations insist commissioners for the body should be independent of all three political parties in the inclusive government, and that the public should have some input in the process of choosing them.

Transparency International Zimbabwe, TIZ, the country’s leading organisation on anti-corruption and governance issues, on March 28 launched an Advocacy and Legal Advice Centre where citizens can actively participate in the fight against corruption.

Mary Jane Ncube, TIZ executive director, told IWPR that her organisation welcomed the creation of the ACC but insisted that the process should be done in the public arena, rather than politicians cherry-picking commissioners, as was done in the past under ZANU-PF.

“It is not just the composition of the new proposed ACC that needs to be addressed but the composition and representativeness of the commissioners … They must be nominated through public platforms with their profiles set out in the public newspapers. The final selection and criteria for selection must also be in the public arena,” said Ncube.

In the past, the appointment of anti-corruption commissioners has been the privilege of Mugabe alone, which critics say tended to create a syndrome of “seeing no evil and hearing no evil” when ZANU-PF and other government officials were implicated in corruption.

Ncube said the independence of the ACC and nomination, selection and appointment procedures should be guaranteed by the new constitution, which must also guarantee the oversight role of parliament over the ACC.

“The ACC must report directly to parliament. Its investigation and prosecution authority must also be entrenched in the constitution for it to be unfettered in its operations. It should furthermore be allowed to fundraise independently... This further guarantees the independence of the ACC and this would put to rest the issue of small fish – big fish,” she said.

That view was seconded by Phillip Pasirayi, coordinator of the Centre for Community Development in Zimbabwe.

Pasirayi, an anti-corruption activist in his own right, said the coalition government should send clear signals that the new political dispensation would be corruption-free, by taking bold steps against what he perceived as the rot at the country’s central bank and other parastatals that have been left bankrupt by corrupt officials.

Gideon Gono, the controversial central bank governor, has been accused of corrupt activities, including printing money to buy foreign currency in the streets for personal use – charges he has vehemently denied in public.

“There is a need to stem the rot and put an end to the looting of the public purse,” said Pasirayi. “The new government needs to institute a forensic audit in key state institutions, including the [central bank], and bring to book all those who abused state resources.”

Tsvangirai, he added, has an uphill task to stop corruption that pervades the Zimbabwean society.

“The [prime minister] needs the support of ethical and professional leaders in government who stand ready to fight corruption,” he said. “I don't see this in the current crop of public bureaucrats we have, especially from the ZANU-PF party. It is the same self-serving and corrupt leaders who have been re-appointed as ministers, governors and permanent secretaries by President Mugabe.”

Pasirayi said there was obviously a need for Tsvangirai to push for legislation that created a truly independent ACC with the powers to recommend prosecution of certain individuals regardless of their political standing.

“There is also a need to reform some key state institutions such as the public protector or ombudspersons, attorney-general and the police, which are all critical in fighting corruption,” he said. “The [prime minister] must not fall into the trap of issuing statements which he does not follow up with action; the people want a new way of doing politics.”

Tsvangirai told a stakeholders meeting on March 27 in Harare, “I have tasked the ministers of home affairs to ensure that all crimes are acted upon and the perpetrators arrested and charged. For too long a culture of entitlement and impunity has stained our society but after the signing of the GPA no crime will go unpunished.”

Jabu Shoko is the pseudonym of an IWPR-trained reporter in Zimbabwe.
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