Tackling graft needs a holistic approach

Dr Masimba Mavaza Correspondent
Public corruption refers to any time of instance in which a government official abuses their position of power or public trust for personal gain. Bribery, fraud, misuse of government funds and failure to disclose a conflict of interest are common examples of this crime. The buzz all over the media is corruption, corruption, corruption. Understandably corruption has changed Zimbabwe.

Over several decades, our values have been eroded; everyone believes money can buy a contract, an appointment, a university admission, a degree, in fact an entire lifestyle.

In Zimbabwe one has to have US$3 000 to get a nursing training course and US$3 000 to get employed. The poor souls are told that the minister needs his “cut” and there is money changing hands every day in Zimbabwe. People seem powerless in the face of corrupt networks and endemic rot yet everyone agrees that the most harmful consequence of endemic corruption in Zimbabwe is the apathy that engenders the culture of acceptance.

Honest citizens are discouraged from going into politics or suffer from apathy, as a result of the distaste corrupt practices have generated. Most importantly, lives are lost and life’s most important ingredient for survival and success – hope – is lost.

The Government of President Mnangagwa has a tough job on its hands – and it is showing a lot of promise.

But tackling corruption is not easy: it starts with the challenge of proving the illegal acts. Courts are not too keen to give decisions in corruption cases.

That kind of decision often has roots in failed cases against prominent politicians, making it manifestly more difficult for prosecutors to prove political corruption. But, how could actions that look so corrupt not be a crime?

The answer lies with the court’s increasingly narrow definition of public corruption, including the crimes of bribery and extortion. The introduction of the Corruption Act and the abuse of office has amended the power to convict.

Prosecuting a political corruption case is difficult and this is not in Zimbabwe alone but the whole world.

But the power of money to get donors political access and influence has expanded with the whittling away of corruption laws. This is because of the system we use to finance candidates, the Supreme Court’s erosion of limits on many kinds of campaign contributions, our current means of financing campaigns has devolved into a form of legalised bribery. Donors pour money into races to get officials who will support their favoured goals. Those who emerge victors strive hard to protect their friends who are corrupt but sponsored them during elections.

Governments, the private sector, and civil society alike have consequently declared the fight against bribery and corruption a priority in their overall endeavour and politics.

Zimbabwe should break the duck and deal decisively with corruption, graft and racketeering.

There should not be any sacred cows and corrupt individuals should not hide behind political expediency.

Shortcomings in the system need to be rectified.

These are at the root of the problem at the legislative level. In addition, many law enforcement agencies are technically not up to dealing with complex crimes such as corruption in an appropriate manner. Legal and institutional shortcomings may have a strong impact on the effectiveness of prosecution when investigations target corrupt businessmen or politicians; these cases are often characterised by a high degree of sophistication concerning the methods of committing and camouflaging the crimes.

This complexity contrasts with the broad lack of training of investigators and prosecutors in specific relevant matters such as forensic accounting, public funds or insider trading.

Unsuitable institutional provisions, especially insufficient independence of the law enforcement agencies from interfering government bureaus, add to these problems. The influence a leading figure can exercise on his or her trial constitutes a second major obstacle. Supported by skilled lawyers, such defendants can obstruct the prosecution with lengthy appeals, and unnecessary postponements which are aimed at frustrating the system.

Sometimes they even manage to influence the legislative bodies to amend legal provisions in their favour. Prominent defendants also benefit from the support of the public, which often displays sympathy for “successful” businessmen or politicians.

The media, publicising details and opinions from the trial, may also cause interference, following their own logic or even commands from the perpetrator’s entourage. Reporting of corruption cases within public administration and by citizens at large faces another difficulty arising from the secret nature of corruption and, in most instances, the lack of individual victims that would come forward with information about an act of corruption and thus trigger an investigation.

A person, in seeking to uncover instances of bribery, may also fear the vengeance of the accused, especially when his or her reporting leads to the launching of an investigation and possibly the conviction of the criminal.

Additional problems arise from a lack of independence of the law enforcement authorities and undue influence exercised on them, in particular by prominent politicians or wealthy businessmen. Because of the lack in many states of legal provisions ensuring the protection of whistle-blowers, the detection and prosecution rates remain low despite otherwise comprehensive legal and institutional anti-corruption frameworks.

Most of these aspects require legislative measures. The strategies of “starting at a low level, and working one’s way up” and “following the money” have proven particularly efficient even in corruption cases involving high-ranking, influential perpetrators and international transactions.

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