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Time to revisit anti-corruption strategies

28 Feb 2021 at 08:50hrs | Views
The latest in a string of arrests - that of Portia Manangazira, the principal director in the epidemiology and disease control department in the Health and Child Care ministry - once again brings the effectiveness and truthfulness of the whole fight against corruption (which has been the main rallying point of the new dispensation) under scrutiny. The slew of charges against Manangazira is not unfamiliar and may as well be an easy guess even to the uninformed reader.

The one exception which may, however, prove hard to guess relates to the charge of nepotism, wherein she is accused of criminally facilitating the recruitment and training of 28 family members (among a group of 1 000 individuals) as community health workers. These were to pocket US$600 each for three months, a figure which was more than triple the employment earnings of a qualified government-employed doctor at the time.

Nepotism remains a real challenge in both private and public institutions although it doesn't get discussed in public fora as often as I think it should. In fact, the vice of nepotism is so widespread that had the prosecutors fancied to do a more thorough job and delved deeper, there was a fair chance of finding that the whole 1 000 beneficiaries of the programme were all connected to influential people in government and politics in one way or another. This would partly explain why the lucrative opportunity was never publicly announced and we are only hearing of it now  that something has gone somewhat wrong.

Other charges against Manangazira relate to the misappropriation of assets after she is alleged to have diverted some 3 290 litres of fuel coupons to privately-owned vehicles and sanctioned payment of some US$8 835 to undeserving Health ministry staff. She is also accused of flouting tender procedures and showing favour to selected suppliers in the purchase of unspecified goods and paying for services amounting to some US$280 529.

To the informed reader, these are almost the exact same allegations that rocked the Health ministry barely a year ago under circumstances involving personal protective equipment and eventually culminated in the sacking of the then Health minister, Obadiah Moyo, by President Emmerson Mnangagwa as he gave in to mounting pressure from citizens. This brings me to my main argument point:

There is something fundamentally wrong with how the war against graft is being waged!

Reports of criminal abuse of office, corruption, misappropriation of assets, incompetence, and, now, nepotism, continue to flood mainstream and social media at a disturbing rate. These have been on a notable increase ever since the coming-in of the new dispensation and this is happening at a time the regime claims to have upped the ante on the anti-graft machinery.

This has two possible implications: Either the war is being waged on the wrong front(s) or, the war is an outright fraud where the public is being misled into believing there is genuine intent to end public corruption when, in actuality, this is not the case. Either way, the hope of victory is minimal, but I will leave that conclusion to your discretion.

A lowly manager in a small company knows that the most effective way to prevent theft or other forms of fraud is not just by threats of firing (and actual firing) of offenders, but by designing and implementing sound systems of control aimed at preventing such fraud from occurring in the first place or detecting it as soon as it occurs. But this seems like a foreign concept in our public entities and to the authorities, who are at the forefront of fighting graft. The premise of the whole fight, it seems, borders on arresting errant officials, bringing them to court, securing their prompt release through consenting to bail, and, most glaringly, doing nothing afterwards.

Nothing in terms of bringing closure to cases, and also nothing in terms of plugging the loopholes that have led to the fraud occurring in the first place!

And so it occurs that we occasionally hear news of how the Special Anti-Corruption Unit or Zimbabwe Anti-Corruption Commission (Zacc) is closing in the net on corrupt public officials and week after week, month after month, we hear that they have arrested such-and-such a high-ranking public official on exactly the same charges as those of their predecessors. And it is not uncommon to hear them brag that they have effected more arrests of corrupt high-ranking government officials in the shortest time in history, which, presumable, is proof that they operate without fear or favour. I just wonder why I have never been impressed by such claims!

It should occur to everyone that the anti-graft fight as led by Zacc and a host of its proxies is excessively focused on individuals and on "active frauds" and that this is the greatest source of their glaring failures. Is it not rather strange that the whole arsenal of the state's anti-graft weaponry has been deployed to tackle the simple question of "what" leaving the most important one of "how" unentertained?

In other words, no effort is being made to address latent failures in government institutions like undue and toxic political interference, lack of effective oversight and preconditions of fraudulent acts, which are the real source of the problem of corruption. They are, instead, only concerned with the fraud cases at hand and arresting the current offenders, albeit in shrewd "catch-and-release" fashion.

This approach is like your local authority advising citizens to deal with mosquito problems in your area by fanning away (not even swatting) the bothersome creatures from your skin, without the local authority making any effort to drain the swamps in which they are breeding.

Thus the recurring scandals at the ministry of Health and Child Care are proof of the failure of the current anti-graft strategy in effectively combating fraud. My two cents' advice is therefore, that the authorities should go back to the drawing board and try to come up with more proactive and pragmatic approaches to dissuade corruption and nip the problem in the bud.


Source - the standard
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