African Parliamentarians Network against Corruption (APNAC) Zimbabwe chapter chairperson Priscilla Misihairabwi-Mushonga (pictured below) says institutions responsible for fighting corruption in the country like the National Prosecution Authority and the Zimbabwe Anti-Corruption Commission (Zacc) need to be capacitated financially and with resources to effectively fight corruption. NewsDay senior Parliamentary reporter Veneranda Langa (ND) speaks to her (PMM).
ND: What is your view on corruption in Zimbabwe and how it has affected the general populace?
PMM: It is not a secret that corruption has become part of people’s lives in Zimbabwe — whether it is about getting a place for a child at school, accessing the Zupco card or being able to get into the Zupco bus, or whether it is about getting a passport or companies that need to come and invest, that are being asked to pay a bribe first.
Where we do not have systems and digital services, or they are limited and services are in short supply, you breed corruption.
So you cannot separate the state of the economy from corruption, and where there are shortages to do with cash or foreign currency, that breeds corruption. That is how pervasive corruption is in society. It creates the big divide we find in this country; that at one level you find people who can hardly afford one meal per day and people who are 10, but living in one room.
In the northern suburbs, you see young 18-year-olds driving expensive cars and you find mansions. When you begin to see such a massive divide, then you know the country is in trouble and is governed or controlled by those that have the resources.
ND: They say “a fish rots first from the head”, does this adage apply to Zimbabwe’s situation?
PMM: You cannot find one person who says they have acquired something without paying a bribe and the process of people being harassed when they seek services. The adage that “a fish rots from the head” is, indeed, true, but it is also true that at this stage, we are actually dealing with criminalised type of corruption, where those who hold influence and power and control are more likely to use that influence and power.
We have had clear demonstrations of how this is true from the Auditor-General Mildred Chiri’s reports. We are finding through these reports that the country is losing many resources through government ministries, where people are using their own influences to give themselves tenders and contracts.
But what I want to say is that we should not turn a blind eye to the corruption that is also taking place in the private sector. For example, in banks, you get a sense that there is a lot that we are not talking about the corruption there. Another example is the mining sector, where there are illicit financial flows.
The civic society cannot be spared. We know that recently, some of the audits have revealed that there is a lot of corruption taking place there. So I do not think at this stage one can point a finger at one.
Of course those who are in government leadership have to take responsibility — both in their personal capacities and in their collective capacity to deal with corruption.
ND: What legal measures do you suggest for combating corruption?
PMM: One of the main things that APNAC will be looking at, in this instance, are not only those who have been convicted or those who have been alleged to be corrupt being taken to the courts. We should ensure that there is a confiscation of ill-gotten wealth because that is not their wealth. It is people’s wealth and it needs to be returned to the people and the State.
We have seen that in many countries where they have crafted proper legislation that facilitates or allows for confiscation of ill-gotten wealth, they have returned that wealth to their countries. Nigeria is one example where they have proceeded to confiscate wealth that has been externalised and one of the things that we want to look at and push for is the whole issue of externalisation.
We hear a lot of stories about lots of money that has been externalised. The question now is: How do we begin to trace it beyond the person — and so we go into entitlement of that person — in circumstances where that wealth is covered under a façade of some form of corporate personality?
We need to find out who are the people behind that corporate personality and next year we will be looking at some of those. I know that the United Kingdom has a very good law around tracking and tracing. We have had some discussions with the British Ambassador on technical capacity around those issues.
ND: Have MPs declared their assets? How does declaration of assets assist in the fight against corruption? Who should be targeted to declare their assets and why?
PMM: It is wrong that when some people come into Parliament, they will be poor, but when you see the same people five years down the line, they own companies. Come on! Someone has to explain. We are not against people who have wealth and are working hard.
Surely, if you work hard, there should be a paper trail and something that shows how you ended up with that amount of money and declaration is good because it shows that when you came in you had one dog and how do you come out with houses and cars and so on.
One of the things that we have in our APNAC constitution is the issue around the declaration of assets. It is demanded — not only of MPs, but also members of APNAC. So, it provides for a much stricter code of conduct that has to be adhered to by those who sit in APNAC.
We have been very clear that one cannot be a member if they think there are any issues that they are involved in that are corrupt and that will put APNAC in disrepute.
ND: As APNAC chairperson, what do you hope to achieve in the fight against corruption?
PMM: There is a lot of the work that we are going to do as APNAC, because we bring in the legislative issue of fighting corruption, and we need to review the current legislation. We will be looking at other laws that we can put in place and tightening of the current laws that are there to ensure that at least from the legislative point of view we can do a lot.
We can look at whistleblowing issues through declaration of assets.
ND: Do you think the institutions that fight corruption, for example, the Zimbabwe Anti-Corruption Commission, the Zimbabwe Republic Police and the National Prosecution Authority, are ready, capable or well-resourced to do so?
PMM: I think there is a lot that still needs to be done to capacitate these institutions. For example, there are a lot of problematic issues that we need to deal with pertaining to the NPA. We have a board in the NPA, but that board is relegated purely to issues of administration. It is problematic in my view.
So the whole constitution of the NPA needs to be reviewed to ensure that, firstly, it is truly independent. There is also a lot of oversight mechanisms that we need to do around benchmarking of the NPA and see how it can be strengthened.
Just the capacity, for example, when you look at prosecutors and you compare them to magistrates, you find that prosecutors must be as well paid as magistrates, but the differences are frightening. Just go to Rotten Row (Magistrates’ Courts) and see their offices and see how prosecutors are housed.
It does not give the sense that there can be serious prosecution that can take place there. That is why a lot of cases never see the light of day and even the judges have no basis to convict because of what is given on the table which does not suffice.
On Zacc, we keep saying no one hunts with other people’s dogs. It is public knowledge that the last Zacc was disbanded because of alleged corruption and you leave the whole institution intact — the investigators — you cannot do that. I think you are setting the whole body for failure.
In fact, we heard that some of the people who have been in Zacc have been boasting and saying they have two commissions to go. You cannot have commissioners who are working under conditions of threats and intimidation.
Even if we give it the benefit of doubt — if those who have been left are not necessarily corrupt — we know that in change management it is difficult for someone to implement a system that changes with people who have been there for a long time.
They find it difficult to deal with new procedures and new systems. We will continue to push that there should be a complete removal of all those people who have been at Zacc. They need to be given the tools otherwise we are wasting time. We need to think seriously about the powers that we are giving to Zacc to ensure that they do their job.
APNAC’s opinion is that Zacc has not been given enough powers and there are perennial issues of shortages of resources — both material and financial. From a technical point of view, you cannot do investigations when you do not have computers to do the work. There are certain things that you need to digitise and we know the countries where this has been done effectively. We need to prioritise capacitating these bodies.
ND: Some people feel that these institutions can be influenced by politicians. What is your comment?
PMM: On the issue of the influence of politicians, I think this is a real perennial problem. We have a whole debate in the United States around influence of people in conversations around the impeachment of President Donald Trump.
So, this cannot just be a Zimbabwean problem, but we know that the only way that one can extinguish the influence of politicians is by creating systems that can expose corruption outside the control of politicians. That is why the issue of whistleblowers is important.
Once there are whistleblowers, it becomes problematic for politicians to do something. They may try. Our problem right now is that there is no facility for the naming and shaming of politicians and even if there is naming and shaming, no one is taking it to its logical conclusion.
That is what APNAC is going to sit down and comb through, that when the AG reports raise issues, we begin to question why people are not being arrested or why we do not have confiscation of property.