Complainant develops cold feet
THE high profile US$6 million bribery case implicating former Zimbabwe Mining Development Corporation (ZMDC) chairperson, Goodwills Masimirembwa hangs in the balance and may actually collapse, amidst reports that the complainant is developing cold feet, the Financial Gazette can reveal.
This latest turn of events is likely to put paid to any investigations by the police, as well as dash the hopes of many in the country who had hoped that this be a poster case for a national fight against corruption, as called for by the highest office in the land.
After President Robert Mugabe raised the red flag last month on Masimirembwa, many had hoped that the case would be pursued to its logical conclusion with no stone left unturned.
However, without a formal complaint from the Ghanaian tycoon, William Ato Essien, who paid the alleged bribe as a way of easier and guaranteed entry into the lucrative, but opaque, local diamond industry, the case is doomed.
In fact, there is unlikely to be any case for anyone to officially answer.
What might further complicate matters, according to the Attorney General (AG) Johannes Tomana are sensational and repeated media coverage of the case which, he said, were pre-emptive and only served to scuttle any efforts to get to the bottom of the matter.
The AG chided the media for extensive coverage of the matter, saying such coverage was pre-emptive and that it worked against the ongoing investigation.
“Why should we even talk about the case?” questioned Tomana. “We should not be pre-emptive. Media stories are actually scuttling the case… Let’s encourage processes instead of putting spanners into them. The case is being investigated.”
The case, which many hailed as one that would pave the way for other corruption going on in the country to come to the fore, was broken by President Mugabe at a luncheon held in celebration of the official opening of Parliament last month.
The President took a swipe at Masimirem-bwa, accusing him of being embroiled in a US$6 million bribery scandal.
The former ZMDC boss is said to have demanded and received a bribe to that amount.
“Corruption must go, corruption must go, corruption must go,” said the President. “Masimirembwa, you got US$6 million as bribe money from Ghanaian businesspeople and it is this we do not like and we do not want people who are corrupt.”
Although efforts to get an update from the police this week were fruitless, they (the police) are on record admitting they were investigating the case.
A glitch has, however, presented itself with the absence of a formal complaint by the Ghanaian businessman, from whom the bribe was solicited.
Suspicion is rife that Essien is fearing for his life and therefore the possibility of his return into the country to make a formal complaint is slim.
In the absence of whistleblowers protection legislation in the country, many people with information, either first hand or second hand, may not be willing to come forward, said the Anti-corruption Trust of Southern Africa.
“The Ghanaian could be afraid for his life,” said Alouis Munyaradzi Chaumba, the regional coordinator for the Anti-corruption Trust of Southern Africa.
“And this may collapse the case. By the end of the year nobody will be arrested in that matter, and we end up with the same situation we have had for 30 years, where the big fish are never brought to book, but only small fish are caught.”
Calls by President Mugabe for zero tolerance on corruption had struck a cord among many in a poverty-stricken country where, according to the 2013 Global Financial Integrity Report produced by the Africa Development Bank (AfDB) and United States Think Tank Global Financial Integrity, US$12 billion was lost to illicit financial flows from 1980 to 2009.
These illicit financial flows, according to the report, include ‘secret financial dealings, tax avoidance and illegal commercial activities’.
Corruption in Zimbabwe has become endemic within its political, private and civil sectors.
In the 2012 Transparency International Corruption Perceptions Index, Zimbabwe was ranked 163rd out of 176 countries.
On a scale of zero (highly corrupt) to 10 (very clean), the Corruption Perceptions Index marked Zimbabwe two.
“Hypothetically the entire post-independence generation has been robbed of US$12 billion (as per the AfDB report) which could have created jobs, built schools, homes, health care system and all other developmental essentials that a generation aspires to…How many generations does it take to recover US$12 billion? … But above all the quantifiable financial losses there are other invaluable losses too. The moral and ethical fibre of Zimbabwe has been severely frayed,” said Mary-Jane Ncube, executive director at Transparency International Zimbabwe.
Ncube says corruption in Zimbabwe cuts across the board.
“Zimbabwe is a victim of both grand and petty corruption. Grand corruption perpetrated by people in high positions of stewardship and influence who can abuse their positions to access and divert resources meant for the public or shareholders such as the Diamondgate scandal. Petty corruption though generally referring to corruption that occurs at a small scale is characterised by the soliciting of bribes such as experienced by Zimbabweans at police roadblocks. Petty corruption in Zimbabwe has been ubiquitous and therefore overwhelming to the polity, society and economy,” Ncube said.
For corruption to be effectively tackled in the country, Zimbabwe should engage a holistic approach to it, Ncube said.
“A holistic approach implies that Zimbabwe must have an all-inclusive strategy that has a clear vision and mission and is well communicated across the nation. It must also include top down and bottom up approaches,” Ncube said.
Top down approaches deal with legal, policy and institutional arrangements, while the bottom-up approaches, she said, focus on strengthening people’s voices against corruption in order to counter it by demanding for accountability, transparency and integrity in leadership, resource stewardship and management, and in the delivery of services.
The generality of society in Zimbabwe has been both victims and perpetrators of corruption, Ncube pointed out.
According to Chaumba a holistic approach to tackling corruption should include but not be limited to the declaration of assets by public officials; a review and tightening of the tendering procedure in the country which he said was open to rampant abuse; addressing the moral values of people which churches should look into; as well as introducing corruption education in schools.
“We have been speaking to government on this for years but our good advice has been falling on deaf ears,” Chaumba lamented.
In terms of the protection of whistleblowers, Chaumba said the only attempt at whistleblower protection had been done by Reserve Bank Governor Gideon Gono during the hyperinflationary Zimbabwe dollar days against a backdrop of economic crimes, but this had not been taken up in other sectors.
“The whistleblower was not effective because it was done at institutional level. There is need for wider protection,” Chaumba said.
“That Masimirembwa case, if effectively pursued with all the political will needed, has the potential to open a can of worms, because Masimirembwa was not acting alone. We suspect that the US$6 million amount mentioned is only a tip of the iceberg. We suspect that the amount is much more than that,” Chaumba said.
Without sufficient political willpower, the case as most suspect, will turn to nought.
“The effectiveness of the fight in the Zimbabwean context is dependent on the willingness of the political leadership to fully recognise the constitutional powers of institutions mandated to fight corruption as well as the supporting roles of both civil society and the private sector for a holistic approach to be achieved… (Otherwise as it stands) the fight against corruption suffers from a lack of a coordinated, coherent approach. A national strategy is required to harness the efforts of all institutions and individuals,” Ncube said.