When you get into power through somewhat controversial means — in this case a soft coup — and you have little time to dig around a mound of problems before the next election so as to earn some legitimacy, what do you do?
By TAWANDA MAJONI
For a shrewd schemer like Emmerson Mnangagwa, who the military helped supplant long-ruling Robert Mugabe last November, the answer is simple. You talk, walk and huff as if you are just busy solving the problems, even if all you are doing is training the sprinkler up the tree branches. It’s called political gardening, which is a polite way to describe cheating.
Consider this for starters. In early February, government announced that it would be taking delivery of 13 locomotives and 200 wagons through the Diaspora Infrastructure Development Group-Transnet consortium so as to revamp an industrial in-patient, the National Railways of Zimbabwe (NRZ).
Granted, Zimasco is saddled with heaps of ore that NRZ has been failing to ferry to various destinations, but it must just be admitted that the locos and wagons hardly have any other use currently. There is no coal at Hwange, Zisco is moribund and so is Zimalloys. In other words, prevailing industrial performance doesn’t justify the investment. Putting $400 million into locos and wagons at this time is like taking jumping castles to a funeral. Mourners don’t need circus entertainment. And, by the way, the deal will only be bringing a net worth of only $2,35 million a year in an economy that is crying out for billions to get going once again.
Declaring war against corruption from the outset when Mnangagwa took over, the new government went out on a vicious campaign to catch and release alleged criminals. And it turned out, the targets of the arrests were just political foes and no more.
Finance minister Patrick Chinamasa announced late last year that they would be retiring all over-aged civil servants. Well, at least, we still have Tobaiwa Mudede who, unless he forged his own birth certificate, is now over 70 years.
The January move to purportedly establish an asset declaration regime for senior public officials easily passes as “Exhibit A” of the Mnangagwa administration’s political gardening. Towards the end of last month, the man they call ED issued a statement compelling a long range of those officials to declare their movable and immovable assets as well as their direct or indirect business interests.
These officials include Cabinet ministers, their deputies, ministry secretaries, senior principal directors, members of constitutional and state enterprise boards as well as local authority executives.
ED knows that corruption is such a huge conversation in Zimbabwe, to the extent that even the most corrupt are complaining about it. Had the military-assisted intervention that brought Mnangagwa to power been an election, the new president would have won it largely on his promise to fight corruption. But then, a defining election is coming in a few months, and ED must appear to be fighting corruption.
Asset declaration regimes are a vital tool to fight corruption. The world knows that, and that is why it started adopting asset declaration mechanisms long ago. The trend to get public officials to declare their wealth and assets started taking shape after World War II, but official adoption of the regimes became particularly pronounced decades later. For instance, the United Kingdom officially adopted its own in 1974, the United States four years later and Spain and Italy in 1982.
This trend was globalised through the United Nations Convention against Corruption (UNCAC) that was adopted in 2003. The convention, just like respective asset declaration regimes throughout the world, calls for public officials to make disclosures relating to employment, investments, assets and substantial gifts and requests governments to preside over this.
This, of course, doesn’t imply that assets declarations are exclusively a western phenomenon. In Africa, kingdoms, chiefdoms and other political set-ups had their own asset declaration regimes. Just that historians, political scientists and sociologists have not been acknowledging it.
Zimbabwe ratified UNCAC in 2007 and is also a signatory to the African Union Convention on Preventing and Combating Corruption. It is also a member of the Sadc Protocol against Corruption while its current constitution adopted in 2013, under section 198, provides for the enactment of legislation that regulates asset disclosures by public officials.
The Zimbabwean Parliament’s Standing Rules and Orders Committee came up with an assets declaration register draft a couple of years ago to compel lawmakers and cabinet ministers to disclose their assets even though we haven’t heard much about this.
Fundamentally, asset declaration regimes are supposed to prevent corruption and foster accountability as well as transparency in public office. Declarations entail the availability of information that can be used to monitor and detect suspicious wealth accumulations and, therefore, prevent corruption where it happens. It guards against public officials getting involved in conflict of interest and this is vital for good governance. With asset accountability and transparency, prosecution and recovery of ill-gotten wealth are made easier.
Above all, asset declaration regimes enhance a positive perception of political administrations locally and internationally. For the ED administration, this is critical because it needs foreign direct and other forms of investment as well as international re-engagement pretty badly. Studies carried out in the West indicate that where such regimes exist, perceptions of corruption are low.
Mnangagwa and his lieutenants know just too well how much value, then, establishing an assets declaration regime would bring to their names. It would hasten their international standing and local perception. But, there doesn’t seem to be strong political will to adopt a sound asset declaration regime.
To start with, the ED regime seems to be in a futile rush to be seen to be doing what the world expects of it. It is not clear if the statement decreeing the assets disclosures has adequate legal backing. Ordinarily, a statement done in this context is just an expression of intention (and implicit threats). While it can be obeyed, it doesn’t necessarily have a binding effect on the targeted individuals or institutions. Senior civil service bureaucracy and cabinet can, indeed, heed the statement in one way or another but out of fear.
It would have been more sustainable if the new government had taken the constitutional route. It must have first initiated the adoption of a statute to align with section 198. This Act would speak to the objectives of setting up an asset declaration regime, the agency to take charge of that intervention, the methods and subjects of asset disclosures, the nature and scope of assets, in addition to corrective or disciplinary measures. The Act would also inform other relevant regulatory frameworks.
Statutory regulation closes gaps and grants clarity to desired interventions while spelling out the obligations of both the State and the subjects of the law. As it stands, the recent purported asset declaration order lacks all these merits and will, inevitably, collapse.
People have already made much noise about the duplicity of the ED administration in the context of the assets disclosures. The measure is brazenly partisan. It is attempting to bear on all senior public officials, but the top three in the presidium — Mnangagwa and his deputies, Constantine Chiwenga and Kembo Mohadi.
This unbelievable omission has three major implications. It is obviously unconstitutional because it undermines equality of persons as spelt out in the Constitution. It is one thing to grant the sitting president immunity from prosecution and a totally different one to exclude him from basic social-moral-legal principles such the ones written into asset disclosures.
Because of lack of the solidness that a law normally provides, it will always be difficult to police and manage the asset declaration order. The statement did not clearly spell out who would bear what roles and duties in implementing the intervention. Nor did it provide for systems to monitor the assets register. Monitoring would always be a long shot considering that the cash-strapped government cannot even monitor its own fleet of cars adequately.
Again, there is no provision to avert speculative or manipulated declarations. It is possible that some of the senior public officials can declare assets they don’t possess yet. Why? Because they know that they are going to acquire them through corrupt means sooner than later. Again, they can transfer their ill-gotten wealth to proxies and look good in the process. They have ample space to do that because the establishment cannot verify the manipulations.
Closely related to this is the message that Mnangagwa, Chiwenga and Mohadi are special cases that must not account for their actions and statuses. It’s a fatal contradiction to claim to be fighting for accountability and at the same time remove yourself from the attending matrix. It betrays your dishonesty too.
Thirdly, by omitting themselves from the burden of declaring assets, the three have lost a chance to absolve themselves from the long-standing accusations that they, in fact, have been part of an acutely corrupt system. It would seem they are just too anxious to keep their skeletons locked up in their closets while sacrificing less mortals.
Establishing asset declaration regimes is a complex process that needs time, diligence and goodwill. Without that, all efforts will come to nought. But then, the ED administration doesn’t seem to be losing a wink over that. It is more concerned about sanitising its image than doing the right thing.
l Tawanda Majoni is the national coordinator at Information for Development Trust (IDT) and can be contacted on firstname.lastname@example.org