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Corruption is reason why covid-19 is a problem

corruptionwatch:WITH TAWANDA MAJONI

If you thought “corruption” was just one of those bad words reserved for politicians out of habit, look at what is happening now.

There is no doubt that, with only 34 positive coronavirus cases including four deaths so far, Zimbabwe belongs to the league of “lucky” nations. You only need to look at what Covid-19 is doing in the United States, Spain and Italy to get a sense of this. But luck and capacity are two different — if not opposed — things. Clearly, corruption and bad governance here have severely eroded state capacity to fight the pandemic.

Luck often retreats, though. It’s still possible that we can easily run out of coffins and body bags were the outbreak to give us a serious run, again thanks to the corruption that, clearly, has made us so vulnerable that we look like dressed Christmas turkeys.

Corruption does several — invariably long-term — nasty things. Basically: loss of efficiency within government, reduced economic ability, stunted investor confidence and, of course, poverty. You can summarise that as socio-economic vulnerability, which is the level at which we are and have been for a long time.

You see, the problem with our politicians is that they seek power for all the wrong reasons, never for the sake of the people. When current Vice-President Constantino Chiwenga, then the Zimbabw Defence Forces commander, laid out the tanks in the November 2017 coup that helped President Emmerson Mnangagwa to the throne, the majority of Zimbabweans gave it a wild cheer. That included Nelson Chamisa and his party. In fact, the opposition took a front role in pushing Robert Mugabe out by starting a motion to impeach him.

The most hopeful people are the politically-wearied ones. That’s why it was easy to believe in the chaps, who uprooted an out-of-sorts Mugabe. In fact, these chaps talked nice and good in the first days. Who has forgotten Mnangagwa’s inauguration speech? He swore at corruption and promised to give us the economy. He said he would deal with corrupt people in his government and away in equal measure. He talked like God had given him a blank cheque to buy us holiday goodies.

But the hope faded fast. Mnangagwa and the post-Mugabe dispensation quickly showed you they were in no hurry to shed their stripes. They didn’t seek power to serve the people, but themselves. And that is getting clearer with each passing day. You now know that, in the recent past, expenditure on foreign travel was 20 or so times more than on health.

It wasn’t the people who were travelling, no. ED and his Foreign Affairs minister, Budhi Busi, were busy chartering planes just so that they could eat boiled ox hooves in mid-air. And, even when you thought you had seen enough, Mnangagwa is still travelling, having rushed to Mozambique a few days ago for a very senseless meeting. He would rather have the jet leg than cramp from sitting at home. That’s got nothing to do with the people, of course.

The current administration never changed the way things were done during Mugabe’s time. It’s still diverting resources from essential socio-economic infrastructure like hospitals and schools. The money is going to serve personal interests. They would rather be travelling and eating boiled ox hooves than building clinics or buying medical drugs.

They have been doing other naughty things. Like, since early 2018, they have spent billions of real money on a useless project — command agriculture. Some four or so billions in American dollars. The money has been going to their crony, Kuda Tagwirei, through his company, Sakunda Holdings, which must be nowhere near farming. And there hasn’t been a single thing to show for that. If the command agriculture scheme gave you as much as a bucket of maize grain for a couple of meals, we know who you are, a fawning accomplice.

You can build a good hospital, complete with well-paid staff, on US$200 million. Now, do your math. How many good hospitals would you build from US$4 billion? How many respirators would you buy from the change? And how many doctors would start enjoying going to work for such an effort?

The satire is never lost when Tagwirei is then paraded as a big-hearted philanthropist for donating personal protective equipment worth millions of dollars.

The government made lots of noise about it when Sakunda acquired the material recently. Sakunda is partly responsible for the mess we are in, for drilling a multi-billion dollar hole into the national pocket through the shady command agriculture scheme and a few others. So, when Tagwirei gets the coronavirus equipment in, isn’t it like government is celebrating the hyena for taking the goat to the pasture?

You will also remember that when Mnangagwa took over, he promised to reign in those that had externalised foreign currency and recover the money for use in critical areas. All he did was to give us a vague number of the people, who had carted the money out. He violated his own deadline for the offenders to surrender themselves. After that, he went quiet about it and, for the theatrics, even went ahead and addressed an empty National Sports Stadium, blaming “sanctions” for our woes. Pretty like they used to do with Mugabe.

That may not surprise you, for those close to him and power are, evidently, the ones that are externalising the money. Add the Zanu PF all-weather friends for a measure. It wasn’t long ago when we learnt that Chiwenga’s estranged wife, Marry, had externalised millions of dollars to South Africa. That talk didn’t come from bar talk. It was Chiwenga himself who said it in his divorce quarrels with Marry.

It’s Mnangagwa’s cronies that are using the cover of darkness and scores of bribe-hungry border officials to smuggle grain and other essential commodities out of the country and creating biting shortages. It’s his cronies, again, who are getting taxpayers’ money in the name of national projects. They don’t go to tender. They don’t do the projects. They just eat the money with their godfathers.

It’s no wonder, then, that government can’t even afford to subsidise face masks. Two days ago, the president extended the anti-coronavirus lockdown by a further two weeks. He made it mandatory for people to wear masks.

It’s no wonder also that Zimbabwe has managed to test only 9 000 people for the coronavirus to date. It’s not clear what the government will have to say for that huge failure after telling us that it had the capacity to test 40 000 people by end of April. We are already into May and they have managed less than a quarter of their own target. Not that 40 000 was going to be a good figure, though. Zimbabwe has more than 16 million people!

l Tawanda Majoni is the national coordinator at Information for Development Trust (IDT) and can be contacted on tmajoni@idt.org.zw.

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