Late Austrian writer and journalist, Karl Kraus, popularly known as the master of venomous ridicule once famously retorted: “Corruption is worse than prostitution. The latter might endanger the morals of an individual, the former invariably endangers the morals of the entire country.”
That corruption is a malevolent cancer that has ravaged the moral fabric of society is an open secret.
In Africa, graft has been the major contributor of underdevelopment with various types of corrupt activities ranging from high level political corruption to petty bribery, patronage and nepotism which fuels inequality and poverty.
Zimbabwe is no exception.
Since independence, Zimbabwe has been riddled by a myriad corruption scandals involving public officials.
These include the ZRP Santana scandal (1989), war victims compensation (1994), GMB scandal (1995), Boka banking (1998), NOCZIM (1999) among others.
Recently, Nigerian billionaire, Aliko Dangote’s attempts to invest in the country left him frustrated amid claims that some cabinet ministers were demanding bribes.
Recently, former ZANU-PF youth leader, Acie Lumumba alleged the existence of a corrupt cartel pulling strings at the Reserve Bank of Zimbabwe.
Lumumba claimed that the clique was responsible for siphoning millions of dollars from the central bank and channelling it to the black market.
It is because of some of these scandals that the 2017 survey by Transparency International, a global corruption watchdog ranked Zimbabwe at 157 out of 180 countries in terms of corruption.
Countries and territories are ranked based on how corrupt their public sector is perceived to be.
Since November last year, President Emerson Mnangagwa has on countless foras vowed to end corruption.
He recently established an anti-corruption commission in his office even though its legality has been hotly contested.
While opening the 2018 legal year in January, Chief Justice Luke Malaba said the Judicial Services Commission (JSC) will institute specialised anti-corruption courts in each of the country’s 10 provinces.
These courts, he said, will be used to obliterate graft.
So far five courts have been set up in Bulawayo and Harare with 12 magistrates chosen to preside over them.
The corruption courts will work with the Zimbabwe Anti-Corruption Commission (ZACC) National Prosecution Authority (NPA) which is training prosecutors, office of the Attorney General, JSC which is tasked with training magistrates for these courts, Zimbabwe Republic Police and Zimbabwe Prison Services.
Specialised courts whose proponents argue that they promote greater efficiency through streamlined procedures as well as higher quality and more consistent decisions in complex areas of law are now a common phenomenon the world over.
Delays in solving corruption cases is problematic because such delays undermine public confidence in government’s commitment and capacity to effectively combat corruption.
Secondly, justice delayed is justice denied.
The defendants may end up influencing key witnesses or tamper with evidence which is why the Constitution emphasises the need for one to be tried within reasonable time.
Academic scholar, Heike Gramckow, believes that specialisation aides in the processing of complex cases that: “require special expertise beyond the law, such as in bankruptcy, environmental, or mental health issues.”
Corruption cases, especially those involving complex financial transactions or elaborate schemes, may be more intricate and need a more expert adjudicative body–to promote both efficiency and accuracy.
Croatia, for example, established a specialised tribunal tasked with handling not only corruption cases but also other serious crimes which was an attempt to enhance the judiciary’s capacity to handle the most complex criminal cases, predominantly through the recruitment of more experienced judges to serve on these courts.
“If corruption courts are established through transparent and independent processes while getting support from proper advocacy and communication campaigns, it will contribute to increasing public trust and confidence in the courts,” said constitutional law expert Greg Linington.
Countries like India, Pakistan and Indonesia have had successful corruption courts which helped enhance people’s trust in government.
However, undue interference from political heavyweights on police investigations and judiciary threatens the effectiveness of corruption courts.
Section 164 (1) of the Constitution provides that: “The courts are independent… neither the state nor any institution or agency of the government at any level, and no other person, may interfere with the functioning of the courts.”
Unfortunately, political figures normally flex their muscle over the police force and judiciary to protect their corrupt allies.
In 2016, former vice president Phelekezela Mphoko unprocedurally ordered Avondale police officers to release former ZINARA officials Moses Juma and David Norupiri who were arrested on allegations of defrauding the parastatal of US$1, 3 million.
Mphoko reportedly said the two were “his boys.”
On the other hand, the police force itself has been marred by corruption. This certainly compromises effectiveness of corruption courts.
According to the World Internal Security and Police Index (WISPI), a report released by the International Police Science Association and the Institute for Economics and Peace, ZRP ranks 102 out of 127 countries surveyed signifying the high levels of corruption within the police.
One cannot over emphasise the importance of an effective and efficient judiciary in the fight against corruption.
“The judiciary is a strong pillar of government and its members are custodians of the rule of law and upholders of justice and human rights who must be honest in all their dealings,” noted Harare lawyer Fungai Chiwashira.
“A well-functioning justice system is fundamental in addressing the corruption challenge which is important for development,” he added.
Unfortunately, judicial institutions are themselves corruptible.
Afrobarometer 2010 surveys showed that experiences with and perceptions of corruption in the courts are widespread.
Therefore, taking 12 magistrates out of a pool infested with reportedly corrupt individuals and expecting them to preside over corruption is hypocritical.
Selection criteria of magistrates presiding over corruption cases also threatens the effectiveness of corruption courts.
These magistrates are selected by the JSC whose composition though an improvement from the old constitution still has some members who sit on the Commission by virtue of being presidential appointees.
Section 189(1) of the constitution outlines 13 members of the JSC who include the Chief Justice; Deputy Chief Justice; Judge President of the High Court; one judge nominated by the judges of the Constitutional Court, Supreme Court, High Court, Labour Court and the Administrative Court; Attorney-General; Chief Magistrate among others.
This indirectly means that magistrates in these courts have an inclination towards the president who has an influence over their appointment which in turn compromises their independence as they cannot bite the hand that feeds them.
This is a common phenomenon in African countries where heads of state deliberately place their allies in judicial service commissions for their own gain.
President Museveni in Uganda, has explicitly expressed intentions to “appoint cadres to the bench.”
The political system, according to theorists like Thomas Hobbes and Niccole Machiavelli, is anarchical and one has to ensure his survival by all means necessary.
In order to survive, those in power may use corruption courts to purge political rivals and use them as scapegoats.
A leaf should be taken from China where 2012 reports pointed out that China’s anti-graft body, the Central Commission for Discipline Inspection (CCDI), ousted over 250 senior officials from the CPC and the military.
Up to two million lower-level officials have also been investigated. Analysts argued that this was more than just a political purge but a desire to rein in on corrupt officials.
Tendai Makaripe is a Harare based journalist who has worked as a correspondent for a number of local, regional and international news outlets. These include The Southern Times, The Standard, The Financial Gazette, Inspired Africa and United States based Content Services. He is a holder of a diploma in journalism and communication attained at the Christian College of Southern Africa (CCOSA. Currently, Makaripe is studying towards a BSc Hons Political Science at the University of Zimbabwe.