CORRUPTION WATCH WITH TAWANDA MAJONI
You will remember the story of the adulterous woman and Jesus’ words on the Mount of Olives. The scribes and Pharisees wanted her stoned to death for her sin, but Jesus challenged those that were clean to cast the first stone. They all melted into thin air, so to speak, a sign that they were all sinners, just that they hadn’t been caught.
It’s not all people that take the Christian Bible seriously, of course, but there is very good moral for Zimbabwe in there. Fine, those scribes and Pharisees — well-documented for hypocrisy — did one thing good, at least. They implicitly admitted that they were sinners when they walked away and didn’t cast stones.
But this is one thing that you won’t find in our Zimbabwe. There is so much talk about corruption and how rife it is. And it’s granted that the stench of corruption is so huge here. The problem, though, is that there is a blinkered view of corruption.
Almost everyone seems to think that corruption is a monopoly of the ruling elite. When talk on corruption happens as it frequently does, people see it as a problem of government and state enterprises only.
So, naturally, when they blame corruption for our current economic troubles, they are in essence merely blaming government and public officials. That’s hypocritical, of course. Even when, once in a while, someone challenges the blubber mouths to cast the first stone, unlike the scribes and the Pharisees, the accusers grab huge boulders and, without thinking too hard about it, hurl them at government and public institutions.
True, no stone is ever going to be too big for those in government. Public service institutions and authorities are as rotten as a mass of penguins washed off sea. They mostly supply the opportunity for corruption. But then, this shows the myopia with which we consider corruption. It always takes to tango, and public sector corruption would be close to nil without the private sector.
That means, whenever we talk about corruption, we need to open our eyes wide open and think deep. Admittedly, there has been some mumblings around private sector corruption too. Just that the talk on this lacks the passion, conviction and noise it deserves. There will always be another day for private sector corruption.
As it stands, there is another form of corruption that people hardly talk about. This relates to the non-elites. Those people who always whimper about graft in high places and how much it is causing them damage and hurt. And these are the people who are ever too keen to throw boulders when the chance arises.
Think about this.
Zimbabwe must be the only country in the world where you buy a beer for $10 from a posh outlet and, on your way home, you pass through a downtown liquor store where the same beer, of the same quantity, is selling at double the price.
You wouldn’t even want to think of the opposite happening. The price difference is just too weird, even if a five-star hotel was thrown into the comparison.
The question, is, what does that say about the moral fabric of Zimbabweans? First, as already hinted, there is no good justification for such a huge price in shops only 400 metres apart.
They get the beer from the same source, at the same price. It’s confusing that a downtown liquor store will sell its beer at a price double that at a relatively decent restaurant.
The downtown liquor centre owner is a crooked business opportunist who is taking advantage of the distortions in the economy to make a quick buck. And he or she will snore so soundly at night.
This is just one example. The same extortionist culture is rampant in many others, and Interestingly among the poor who, ironically, are ordinarily seen as the victims of corruption.
You are familiar with the lumpen who, during commodity shortages, hoard goods, step outside the shop and start selling the same items at three times the original price. They do that without the slightest apology. For them, this just shows how enterprising they are. It’s never about them being corrupt, and they boast loudly about it whenever they get the ear.
The same subalterns make you pay big money to jump the queue, wherever it is, and you also go home boasting, without the slightest conscience about how clever you were for leapfrogging other people.
They sell you rotten tomatoes in the evening and illegally connect themselves to power and water. They demand money from politicians to vote them, and take money to zip up when they must be saying useful things. From tuck shop owners to street hawkers, they raise the price of their wares upon mere rumour and for no reason but just to profiteer.
And these are key populations for corruption perception indices. Such that they will start accusing those in government of corruption whenever they get the chance. Of course, I have never been a big fan of corruption indices.
While they may give a hint about the level of corruption in a society, they also miss big things. Their sampling is warped. They never consider that they are asking for opinions — mostly only on the public sector — from people who are in themselves corrupt.
People who are, weirdly, convinced that they must never be involved as agents of corruption. And people that the researchers strangely assume lack the capacity for corruption. That means the perception indices are always getting into the conversation with all manner of wrong ideas.
Before Jesus challenged the scribes and Pharisees to cast the first stone on the adulterous woman, you saw pretty the same in that community. People were always quick to accuse others of wrong-doing even if they were equally guilty. In some cases, they had logs in their eyes.
The bottom line is, there is need to change our attitude towards corruption as a social ill. It’s a tragedy that the malignancy is now so embedded in our society. At all levels.
The poor and rich, the elites and the subalterns. They are all the same when it comes to corruption. The difference is only in opportunity. Those that are in high places have greater access to opportunities of corruption, so they do it big time and become more visible than the ones on the lower rungs who, given a chance, would do exactly like their more “fortunate” counterparts.
Tawanda Majoni is the national coordinator at Information fir Development Trust (IDT) and can be contacted on firstname.lastname@example.org