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Graft remains our national sickness

The aftermath of one of Zimbabwe’s most remarkable harmonised elections in recent history has been marked by a heightened sense of national anxiety.

MATHABELAZITHA/THE ANVIL BY ZIFISO MASIYE

There is a curious mixture of great hope and sanguine optimism for new beginnings; and an equal measure of dashed dreams and deep fears of another potential stillbirth of democracy. Having delivered yet another disputed result, the highly subscribed elections have left Zimbabweans with more questions to their difficult economic and governance challenges than answers.

Among other things, the elections were conducted against a commonly acknowledged backdrop of increased incidences of abuse of public office, diminished public accountability, widespread institutionalised corruption and, consequently, in increasing poor service delivery both at the national and local level.

Development practitioners, research analysts and civil society have repeatedly observed for years that at the heart of Zimbabwean’s well-documented challenges, is the growing cancer of public sector impropriety, internal mismanagement and corrupt practices by public officials. Public and political offices have become the happiest hunting forest for the country’s marauding syndicates of looters and crafty thugs.

Understandably, the advent of the landmark 2018 presidential, parliamentary and council elections generated widespread hope amongst Zimbabweans that, with the celebrated departure of Robert Mugabe, the defender-in-chief-of-the-looting orgy, now perhaps, the election was going to renew and refresh the leadership, to produce a new leadership culture… a fresh crop of re-oriented, effective, transparent, ethical and accountable servant leaders and, perchance, relieve the nation of its protracted burden of greed, graft and relentless plunder of public resources.

Whether or not, and to what extent such leadership renewal may have actually occurred remains to be seen. Among other arguments, is the view that in 2018 the local authority and parliamentary component of the harmonised elections tended to be overshadowed by an apparent national fixation with the presidential election. Such a development may have significantly compromised electoral attention on the quality and integrity of members of Parliament and councillors that made it to the august house and to the multiple council chambers that hold custody of the lives, livelihoods and resources of millions in provinces across the length and breadth of Zimbabwe.

It is to the same end that the advocates of separate, decoupled rather than harmonised elections have surfaced. Zimbabweans seem to slowly learn, albeit at perilous cost, that the quality of leadership they elect at the most local level is as critical as the president of the country. One pointer to the increasing national concern is a groundswell of public awareness and anger at graft and increased advocacy against corruption in councils.

Although corrective action seems to be typically slow, often politicised, ad-hoc, inconsistent and therefore largely ineffective, the pattern and social trend towards louder voices for zero-tolerance to corruption, a local governance charter to audit lifestyles of councillors and public officials and to scale up and reinforce the overall downward public accountability of administrators and elected officials is ever more telling of the social mood.

Importantly, the tone and body language of the president and new government seems to suggest that there is something of a renewed political commitment and vigour to stamp out corruption in all its forms in all the spheres of government in the new dispensation. Not unexpectedly, questions have arisen as to the sincerity of government and the efficacy, independence, and robustness of the anti-corruption mechanisms, the institutions and processes that have been set in motion. Arguments abound from naysayers, and rightly so, that point to the fallacy and futility of relying on old, pliant and hamstrung people, processes and institutions that are set up, ostensibly to fight public service corruption, but, in fact, are intrinsically designed to protect the ultimate chief perpetrators and primary beneficiaries of corruption.

Arguments abound too, that perhaps, President Emmerson Mnangagwa means well and having willingly pronounced and repeated bold and public commitments to the nation and the world alike the resolve of his newly-constituted administration to clean the image of the country and invest in generating global confidence; having committed to rid the country of corruption and not to protect political cronies found offside of the law, he may deserve our benefit of the doubt. The proof of the pudding is yet, in the eating.

Whether Mnangagwa is sincere, whether he is buying time or bluffing, what must be understood without ambiguity is that civil society and the Zimbabwean citizens that are, in the final analysis, saddled with the burden of rampant corruption and the relentless haemorrhaging of their economy only have one real choice: to call the President’s bluff and, on their part, to leave no stone unturned in identifying, flagging, reporting and fighting all manner of corrupt practices where they manifest in their localities and thus, test the resolve of the government.

What is new? Many have asked….

Historically, one of the major logjams to unlocking runaway corruption in the public sector was identified as lack of effective political will. A tolerant approach and lukewarm attitude to the scourge of corruption had ensured that the few pronouncements against the national scandal by Mugabe always amounted to casual state acknowledgement, but never any real corrective sanction or institutionalised punitive measure. Granted, many government indicators remain fairly indecisive and probably negative. But the proactive isolation of corruption as the essential public enemy, the repeated pronouncement of a policy of zero tolerance to corruption and the early moves towards empowering the requisite instruments, scaling up the mechanisms to fight corruption, are indicative of changes in the levels of political will in the new government.

The level of local governance, the municipalities, the local boards, the district councils which is the closest government comes to the people, there, is found the melting pot of service delivery and corruption. The near collapse of service delivery over the years in the districts, towns and municipalities has been attributed equally to dilapidated infrastructure, a diminishing resource base and the increased incidence of corruption and abuse of council resources by both administrators and elected councillors.

In another rare departure from the central government paranoia of the past, the new dispensation appears committed to implementation of devolution of power and, hopefully, to the attendant effective capacity-building of all the newly-constituted provincial spheres of government.

It is in light of such a background that civil society must not only embrace the government stance on anti-corruption, but set out to enforce such proposition by deliberately crafting and promoting the requisite anti-corruption policy architecture to ensure effective implementation, monitoring and results. Citizens are all too aware of the political motives of the current wave, the global grandstanding and attendant cosmetic interventions that conveniently accompany such a political moment. The post-election anxiety of the citizens in the above regard delivers a rare opportunity to secure a robust and enduring, co-ordinated policy approach to arresting the cancer of self-enrichment and corrupt practices in our local authorities. Neither government, nor councils, acting alone are capable of effectively managing, let alone eliminating corruption. An inclusive, multi-stakeholder approach is both necessary and urgent.
l Zii Masiye (ziimasiye@gmail.com) writes elsewhere on social media as Balancing Rocks.

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