“If you are shelling groundnuts for a blind man, you must keep whistling, so he knows you are not eating them.” — African proverb.THE above proverb, which I got from a friend as we were chatting about the state of our country and economy, sums up the levels of transparency, accountability and honesty required when one has stewardship of resources that belong to citizens.
Recent events such as Covidgate, where public procurement procedures were corruptly flouted and resources earmarked for combating the Covid-19 pandemic were looted by politically connected persons; Crocogate, where prices of Toyota Land Cruisers were grossly inflated from US$110 000 to US$400 000 each; and the Command Agriculture looting, are enough proof that the biggest challenge we have as a nation is lack of accountability. The economic dynamics in Zimbabwe show that the main factors behind economic collapse are bad governance, corruption as well as lack of transparency and accountability. These are the pressing issues the nation must confront before anyone points a finger at purported external factors.
Bad economic governance in Zimbabwe haemorrhages resources that are meant to fulfil citizens’ social and economic rights such as access to clean water, health, education, and adequate food. The economic burdens of mismanagement are then shouldered by the citizens, particularly the vulnerable. It is the citizens who pay for the luxuries of the elite. Women become the biggest unrecognised philanthropists who provide unpaid care work involuntarily.
The costs of lack of accountability are massive for Zimbabwe. Among other effects, bad governance scares away genuine investors from the country and does not reward honest enterprise. It causes the economy to shrink and rolls back social investments in education, public transport, and health, for instance.
Bad governance constitutes by far our biggest self-imposed sanctions. We must urgently deal with this matter as a first step towards the revival of the economy and the improvement of the quality of life of all the people of Zimbabwe.
Under the leadership of President Emmerson Mnangagwa, the government has excelled at saying all the good things, but implementation has been woefully inadequate. In his inaugural speech in November 2017, he was very explicit that sanctions were not the cause of Zimbabwe’s economic woes. In 2018, he went on to make a pledge after the elections and acknowledge the importance of leadership accountability. He also made a commitment to root out corruption and grow the economy to the benefit of all Zimbabweans. His own Zanu PF political party manifesto of 2018 preaches the same.
More than two years down the line, reports of obscene corruption and mismanagement of public resources have continued to pour in. Abuse of public office by senior officials continues unabated as the economy plunges down the abyss. This is even happening in the middle of a Coronavirus pandemic that has inflicted serious harm on the social and economic fabric of Zimbabwe and globally.
When one assesses government expenditure, the use of public funds, from the routine hiring of private luxury jets, subsidies for fuel, Command Agriculture, the grain millers’ subsidy and the purchase of overpriced goods such as the controversial Drax International US$60 million tender for Covid-19 supplies, and the Croco Motors Land Cruiser saga, among many others, it is clear that we are the main authors of our crises. It is us who must take corrective measures and write a different, better story for our people and for future generations.
Auditor-General Mildred Chiri has exposed grand financial irregularities every year, exposing bad corporate governance, corruption, and wasteful expenditure, especially in public procurement. This was also noted in the analysis done by civil society organisations, the African Forum and Network on Debt and Development (Afrodad) and the Zimbabwe Coalition on Debt and Development (Zimcodd) in 2019 on Public Debt Management in Zimbabwe.
The Public Accounts Parliamentary Portfolio Committee has put those issues on the spotlight in Parliament and has called on some of those involved in the misuse of public finances for hearings. They have also called for action to stop the rot. Civil society organisations such as Zimcodd and Transparency International-Zimbabwe (TI-Z) have called on government to put in place mechanisms and strong institutions and systems that promote accountability.
Zimbabwe does not have a policy crisis or lack of robust legal frameworks. It simply suffers from the sheer lack of accountability where public officials break laws and face no sanctions for doing so and leaders are not answerable to the citizens.
A study commissioned by Zimcodd established that Zimbabwe’s grand political corruption is the major driver of fiscal deficits and the exponential growth of public debt beyond the legal threshold of 70%.
The conflation of the state, politics and business is a triangular marriage that has continued to push the monetary, fiscal and economic burdens to the ordinary citizens who are muzzled and disempowered to hold those in the vortex of corruption and abuse of power accountable. Impunity is an embedded culture and no one is willing to be held accountable for economic and financial crimes being committed.
As the government continues to fragment and weaken public institutions, Constitutional Amendment Bill Number 2 is being pushed through. The Bill has clause 23 which seeks to take away the parliamentary oversight role on public borrowing from foreign entities. Considering the rampant corruption Zimbabwe is experiencing, it would have been prudent to strengthen the oversight and accountability institutions, to build confidence and trust from all stakeholders, to create a stable and predictable business environment, to have the currency of trust flow among the citizens by being proactive in sharing credible information from formal channels by government. You do not achieve this by eroding parliament’s oversight powers.
Accountability must be seen from the analogy of “the window and the mirror”.
For the past two decades, leadership in this country has looked through the window for someone else outside their sphere to apportion blame for their leadership failures.
This explains why a senior government official can stand in front of citizens and lament that the white man did not teach us how to run the economy! They are continuously gazing in the mirror to take credit for what they have done for this nation from the liberation struggle, to the fast-track land reform, indigenisation laws, among other many achievements they routinely highlight. This has given leadership an entitlement mentality. There is a sense that leaders can do as they please and the citizens will not lift a finger.
However, the use of “the window and the mirror” analogy must be the other way round. If Zimbabwe is going to unlock its full potential, the leadership must look in the mirror, self-introspect and take responsibility. That is the highest level of accountability required at this stage. They must look through the window to see the many citizens who have really taken it upon themselves to sustain this country by being so industrious and going beyond the cliché of resilience to survive. These are the citizens they owe not only the wafer-thin electoral democracy but substantive democracy where leadership actions and policies are subjected to public scrutiny and there is willingness to be held accountable.
Going forward, Zimbabweans must know that to transform their lives there is a need for everyone to look in the mirror and self-introspect about what being a nation means and what Independence means for all of us. There should be a re-imagination of the state and role of leadership. The role of citizens must be part of that matrix.
Where leadership has been inept in the discharge of the duty and mandate given by the citizens, the same citizens must be able to approach institutions that are independent for redress or recall of such leadership.
More importantly, where leaders fail to deliver on their obligations to citizens, they must be held accountable through robust systems and independent institutions.
Sometimes it makes political and economic sense for the authorities to be open to a genuine multi-dimensional dialogue that places citizens at the centre towards finding solutions that leverage on all strengths that the country is endowed with. Our current crisis is primarily internally authored and driven, rather than a result of external factors. We are the people who must fix it. None but ourselves.
Zhou is the executive director of the Zimbabwe Coalition on Debt and Development, a social and economic justice coalition in Zimbabwe. She writes in her own capacity.