Whose turn to eat?

If the recent reports on comments by outgoing MDC-T treasurer Roy Bennett are correct, they confirm what has been hiding in the open for some time now: namely concerns that many in the party’s leadership had started to eat, rather than lead, from the front. The word ‘eating’ has been used as a metaphor denoting corrupt activities by those in positions of authority for their own personal gain.

Robert Gonouya
Robert Gonouya

As the fallout from the recent election continues, one wonders whether the leaders of the MDC-T, Morgan Tsvangirai in particular, missed an opportunity to signal to long-suffering Zimbabweans that there would be a new culture of leadership, one that would demonstrate that publicly entrusted power would not be used to profit individuals.

Perhaps, as charged by Amai Jukwa, Jonathan Moyo and others, it was beyond him and is too much to expect of him? Whatever the truth is, the fact remains that those aspiring to lead a new Zimbabwe will have to grasp the nettle that is leadership greed. A failure to do so runs the real risk of undermining the benefits most people expect in a democracy – especially against the current backdrop of crippling poverty and deadly declines in the general living standards of most Zimbabweans.

Cutting costs

Imagine the serious intent and confidence which would have been generated by an announcement ton the first day of assuming office that no ministers would drive Mercedes Benz’s but instead would be issued with locally assembled cars – with the savings being diverted to resource rural primary schools. Or that water supply problems would be prioritised and tackled using savings from a dramatic reduction in government ministries (Kenya’s Uhuru Kenyatta reduced his from 44 to only18). Or that all major hospitals would be overhauled within the first 100 days, ensuring that medicines, equipment and personnel were fully resourced, from a major reduction in foreign travel costs and unnecessary conferences. Alas, none of this was said. Would it have been said if Tsvangirai had won? I wonder.

The late literary icon, Chua Achebe spoke incessantly and consistently about similar concerns. Refusing one of his country’s highest accolades, that of the Commander of the Order of the Federal Republic of Nigeria, he questioned the worth of being a democracy if people are hungry and despondent, and much needed infrastructure is crumbling or non-existent.

He lamented the lack of security, the alienation of certain parts of his country and the destructive impact of corruption on the life chances of many of his fellow countrymen. All these resonate with Zimbabwe today.

Our turn to eat

In her absorbing book entitled, It’s Our Turn To Eat, Michaela Wrong, unlike her surname suggests, was far from being off the mark when describing the decadence and gluttony of Kenyan ministers and civil servants and the spirit of greed that still pervades the country’s political elite – despite several successive regimes who had promised to tackle leadership corruption.

Many parallels can be drawn between the Kenyan experience and what we have witnessed in Zimbabwe, particularly with the ascendance of the MDC-T into a power sharing position. Although there are a litany of examples indicating the growing contrast between those who actually run the government and those outside, it is the embracing of this destructive ‘eating’ spirit by some MDC–T leaders that is most worrying.

Rather than shun the decadence and unnecessary packages of privilege, the majority of the MDC ministers and civil servants have lapped it up and developed a penchant for the finest. Tsvangirai himself has been accused of ‘eating’ and ‘sleeping’, rather than leading from the front.

Much has been made of his spending on his children being schooled abroad, lavish wedding and honeymoon and love dispute settlements – allegedly beyond what his salary can provide. Were such indiscipline to be proven beyond doubt, this selfish behaviour must be denounced in the strongest terms. Not doing so buries the hope many had placed in an alternative government – one which should ‘enable the people to eat’, access quality education, quality health services, a free and democratic environment and security of life, to mention but a few.

Mutating corruption

In explaining the Kenyan ‘eating’ case, Michaela has it that: “As Kenya has modernised, so its sleaze has mutated, a new layer of graft shaped to match each layer of economic restructuring and political reconfiguration. In Kenya, corruption doesn’t go away with reform, it just migrates…”

It is this multiplication and transfer of corruption with any leadership changes which Zimbabweans should guard against, as its impact destroys hope and the life chances of many. Never again should key institutions such as schools and hospitals be compromised by a new group of leaders who look after only themselves, their friends and relatives – ensuring that their children are educated at the best private schools money can buy or that they are flown out of the country to access the best medical facilities. Future leaders in Zimbabwe should demonstrate confidence in local facilities by seeking treatment in the country and by sending their children to state schools.

Hefty packages

If recent reports of golden handshakes for outgoing ministers across all parties are to be believed, the development marks the crossing of the Rubicon with respect to the levels of gross insensitivity to the suffering majority of Zimbabweans. According to media reports in March:

“Mugabe, Tsvangirai, Mujuru, Mutambara and Khupe are expected to get hefty packages running into hundreds of thousands of dollars, while ministers would each get $30,000, residential stands in affluent suburbs, three luxury cars including Mercedes Benz and top-of-the-range SUVs”.

Whatever the merits of this claim, it provides a useful opportunity to reflect on possible policy alternatives to deal with the real problem of leaders with their ‘snouts in the trough’. In its current guise, the controversial indigenisation policy of increasing ownership or participation by locals in foreign owned companies has been much maligned for appearing to serve as a major source of accumulation and ‘redistribution of wealth’ through networks of power that do not assure the equitable distribution of resources among the population at large. The tragedy is that many of us believe in the principle but have become disillusioned with how the implementation is playing out.

Lack of appetite

The MDC-T’s leadership lack of appetite or unwillingness to outline a bold and realistic plan to address leadership ‘eating’ is indeed of great concern, especially in light of some of their leadership’s track record to date. For example, in 2012, three MDC-T MPs were charged for allegedly abusing their Constituency Development Funds) allocations. They were Marvellous Khumalo (St Mary’s), Albert Mhlanga (Pumula) and Cleopas Machacha (Kariba). In 2009, Zaka North MP, Ernest Mudavanhu was imprisoned for 12 months for allegedly abusing the subsidised farming inputs.

Whilst one cannot rule out the works of invisible hands in corruption allegations levelled at the MDC, it is true that owing to such scandals, the party is struggling to engender confidence in its abilities to govern effectively – free from greed and corruption. Perhaps more importantly, they still have their work cut out to convince many that they can deliver on their Jobs, Upliftment, Investment Capital and Environment (JUICE) vision with leaders mired in sleaze.

As epitomised by the rather amateurish handling of the elections aftermath, current indications appear to validate the widely held view that many of the ministers and current executive confirm the Peter Principle. This states that the members of an organization will eventually be promoted beyond their level of ability – that is, to their level of incompetence. Of course, this too applies to many in Zanu (PF) who have failed to work effectively as ministers upon their promotion.

High profile bungling

The bungling of the high profile Zimplats indigenisation ‘deal’ by Indigenisation Minister, Saviour Kasukuvere is notable. For his incompetence, he was reproached by Mugabe who said:

“………they gave us 51% saying that it is a loan that we are giving you, and we are paying for you in advance and then you can pay us back tomorrow. “I think that is where our minister made a mistake. He did not quite understand what was happening, and yet our theory is that the resource is ours and that resource is our share, that is where the 51% comes from.”

Questions of impropriety also remain around the commission being charged for such deals by Brainworks, a local consultant company, with suggestions that a motley bunch of the politically connected are looking to ‘eat’ from the attendant transactions.

With election of the likes of Comrade Chinotomba as an MP, it will be hard to look for a better candidate who embodies the Peter Principle. – The writer can be contacted at [email protected]

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Post published in: Opinions & Analysis

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