Sunday, April 21, 2019

Editorial Comment: President Needs Our Support in War on Graft
22 APR, 2019 - 00:04
The Herald

Corruption in its widest sense is a cancer eating into Zimbabwe and President Mnangagwa’s frustration over the difficulty of cutting it away from the public and private sectors and then keeping it away was evident last week.

We have resources: the police have a duty to investigate crime and gather evidence; the National Prosecuting Authority has a duty to bring to court those under suspicion once enough evidence is gathered; the Judiciary has the duty to rule whether a law has in fact been broken and if so whether there is adequate evidence to prove beyond reasonable doubt that the suspect is guilty.

Backing up the law enforcement there is the Anti-Corruption Commission, now in the process of being reformed. Following the inauguration of President Mnangagwa the battle against corruption was upgraded from something that people talked about to something that there were supposed to take action to eliminate.

There were prominent arrests, bail was granted but then nothing more than regular further remands and a couple of successful defence applications to have charges withdrawn.

The President has pushed hard. Unlike past practice he has not been prepared to have those under investigation or suspicion sitting in the same Cabinet room as himself and has taken action to reform processes and procedures, but as he notes there is a lot more to do and the whole process is going far more slowly than it should.

Corruption is not just payment of bribes. In fact most of the cases that have come before the courts do not involve that particular criminal behaviour, which is incredibly difficult to prove because people do not hand over bundles of cash in front of witnesses and in broad daylight.

Rather we see those with the power to make decisions, or can influence others to make decisions, use that power to bend or break rules and award contracts and the like to either themselves, through their indirect ownership of some company, or to their friends and relations.

Then there is the crony capitalism problem, identified as a serious problem in India and one reason why India’s economic growth is slower than China’s, despite more apparent advantages. This is where people convert friendship into wealth, doing little favours for each other, favours that might just be passing on information.

It is not just in the public sector that this happens. The private sector has its fair share of corruption elements, but the private sector has also developed a number of defences. Small companies are often family affairs because people feel they can trust their own kin. Large companies put in a plethora of systems.

There are strong rules, with some decisions requiring committee decisions so minimising the power of a single person to award a contract. There are two sets of auditors, the internal auditors on the payroll and the external auditors. Boards of directors usually have both insiders, the executive directors and sometimes major shareholders who are not in executive positions, and independent non-executive directors with one of these normally chairing an audit committee, looking at reports from both sets of auditors.

And things come to light. As the President has found it is often difficult to prove anything, but at least action can be taken. Everyone has noted sudden resignations, sudden early retirements. Sometimes there is even a civil suit, but not as often as there should be, but at least the problem person is sent away. But it does not always work. Sometimes the corrupt activity encompasses so many that no one squeals and everyone covers up.

The public sector has basically the same checks. The Auditor-General has extensive legal powers. Instead of an audit committee of the board of directors there is the powerful Public Accounts Committee in Parliament, always chaired by a backbencher not in Government and sometimes, as at present, by an opposition MP.

Procurement, one of the trickier areas to police, is done by strict rules operated by a committee, preferably of people of different backgrounds to make it harder to get trust for illegalities. But party politics sometimes intrude, with people wanting to score points rather than hunt down the guilty or even cover up for their friends, who might be on the other side of the Parliamentary aisle.

We need to remember that people do not deal with others in just a working, official or business environment. They meet at church, play golf together, they sit next to each other at school sports days, they meet at parties and socials. This can make the world go around, oiling the works for good, and for evil. We cannot stop socialising, but we can ensure that we have enforced rules that make converting that friendship into immoral wealth is prevented.

We need a major change in attitude. Too often people say to themselves that “everyone is doing it”, so they wonder why they should not. The answer, as always, is because we are all responsible for our actions and we should have enough self-worth and self-respect not to break laws. In the end such people are admired.

And somehow such people need to be brought into the battle against those who are lesser, if richer, humans. Countries that have won major battles against corruption have found men and women ready to take on the corrupt. Sometimes they are called fanatics; sometimes, as happened in Italy when major inroads were made against Mafia-corruption, they are murdered. But without teams of competent investigators led by people with very clean hands prepared to excuse nothing, we cannot win.

The President cannot fight corruption alone. He needs the support of all decent people who want it to end, regardless of who is involved and what friendships might end as a result. More and more people need to want to live a clean life themselves, and more and more need to be ready to speak out when they see wrong.

This sort of thing should be outside the political arena; it is simply setting the basic conditions for a successful Zimbabwe. The politicians can then argue on how to move forward on other policies. But surely committing and hiding crime is not on anyone’s agenda.

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