Corruption of the inner circle

gushungo_dairy_farmHARARE - Zimbabwe's Vice President, Joice Mujuru, has been let off scot-free after she was named in a National Economic Conduct Inspectorate probe on the plunder of the Zimbabwe Iron and Steel Company (ZISCO). (Pictured: Gushungo Dairy, one of the First Ladys many properties acqui

The company was a major foreign-currency earner before independence in 1980, and collapsed two years ago after being systematically pillaged to an extent of failing to re-equip its plants.

Mujuru, ministers Samuel Mumbengegwi, Sithembiso Nyoni, Olivia Muchena, Stan Mudenge and Patrick Chinamasa, and a number of other senior company officials, stripped ZISCO bare. They did not even have the audacity to quit after asset stripping the public company that is 90 per cent-owned by the government.

Meanwhile, a retired Air Force of Zimbabwe Air Vice-Marshal, Robert Mhlanga, is the chairman of a private company dealing in the mining and trading of Marange diamonds in eastern Zimbabwe, a proxy for well-heeled top army generals used as a front to keep the murky operation under wraps.

Riches of the elite

Another private company, Canadile, is creaming off the Marange diamond fields. It is linked to politicians, soldiers and officials in President Mugabe’s inner circle, and has corruptly acquired a lease on the world’s richest diamond fields, Marange.

Police Commissioner-General Augustine Chihuri has demanded a mining concession in the lucrative diamond fields from Mines minister Obert Mpofu, which is shocking and completely at a tangent with the force’s constitutionally enshrined law enforcement duties.

The Local Government minister Ignatius Chombo is frantically trying to rebuff charges under the Prevention of Corruption Act that he stole vast tracts of land in Zimbabwe’s capital, Harare. The minister’s estranged first wife Marian has reported him to the President claiming he was dispossessing her of property they acquired when they were still together.

The President’s nephew, Phillip Chiyangwa has sued the Harare City Council for publishing a council report that lifted the lid on alleged shocking plunder of prime council land by the ostentatious businessman.

The head of state’s nephew also allegedly represented a consortium which dubiously won a contract to build the capital’s golf course in Borrowdale on land not designated for that purpose.

A controversial multi-millionaire with links to President Mugabe’s Zanu (PF) Billy Rautenbach has corruptly secured a US$800 million deal to mine coal in Hwange through his Clidder Minerals Company.

Two other permanent secretaries, and the former head of the national oil company, are under investigation for fraud by Parliament’s public accounts committee.

The President’s land reform programme has been plundered by members of his party’s ruling elite. Several judicial commissions have alleged many cases of multiple-farm ownership and fraudulent claims.

Mugabe’s own wife, 40 years his junior and a serious shopaholic, seized a choice commercial farm from High Court judge, Ben Hlatshwayo.

Since the land grab began in 2000, the First Lady has corruptly acquired several farms in contemptuous breach of her husband’s stated one-man-one-farm policy. Mrs Mugabe first grabbed Iron Mask Estate in Mazowe in 2003 from Joe and Eva Matthew, an elderly couple in their 70s. Then she grabbed Foyle Farm from Ian Webster, then ‘Gushungo’ Dairy Farm- named after Robert Mugabe’s family totem.

Welcome to Zimbabwe. In the scale of Zimbabwean profiteering, this is small beer, partly because the country does not have the sort of riches that encourage massive illegal expropriation.

Perceived corruption

In Transparency International’s index of perceived corruption, Zimbabwe ranked 146 among 180 nations surveyed in 2009.

Despite calls for the investigation and freezing of Mugabe’s personal assets held abroad, most observers believe that the teetotal and, even at 86, fitness-fanatic president is more interested in clinging on to power than lining his pocket. He hasn’t even been able to buy a presidential jet, though he can commandeer planes from the national airline.

While ordinary Zimbabweans previously believed that Mugabe had the mandatory Swiss bank account, most observers are now convinced that he cannot match the cupidity of some of Africa’s kleptocratic regimes.

Personally Mugabe himself is not tainted by corruption and a thorough search for his bank accounts abroad has been futile. The same cannot be said of those who surround him. The problem for Mugabe is the perception – in a highly literate population – that he has done very little about reining in the excesses of his family and party cronies.

According to anti-corruption watchdog Transparency International (TI)-Zimbabwe, the breakdown in social services, the rule of law and public accountability has resulted in corruption becoming a strong feature of all sectors, not only top level corruption.

Ronald Shumba, a political commentator, says: “Experience has taught Zimbabweans that Zanu (PF) is very good at setting up all manner of schemes, funds and programmes to benefit the poor and the needy. But soon after gathering the money, it loots everything with impunity for the benefit of big chiefs.”

After 30 years in power, it was only after formation of a unity government after Mugabe lost elections in 2008 that a power-sharing agreement provided for an anti-corruption commission. But 15 months down the line, the commission has still not been formed. Occasionally the police fraud squad arrests officials and executives in key state organisations. But critics say it has mainly been “small fries.”

Name and shame

A report issued this week by TI-Zimbabwe’s Advocacy and Legal Advice Centre said: “Complaints about receipt of bribes in the private sector are high. They include cutting corners and shirking honest competition rather than producing real, competitive value for clients. Complaints have been received against companies paying bribes to win public contracts or receive government services. Communities have also noted a lack of transparency in the issuing of mining rights.”

In a country that ranks 151 out of 177 countries in the United Nations human development index, and where life expectancy has dropped to an alarming 36 years – due to the Aids crisis – the flagrant abuse of state funds has become a critical election issue.

Zimbabwe’s pro-reform Finance minister Tendai Biti has threatened to name-and-shame spendthrift members of Zimbabwe’s Cabinet from Mugabe’s side of the unity government who have blown some US$30 million over the past six months on unnecessary and at times unapproved foreign trips.

The failure to act on this long series of corruption has created a widespread perception that there is a tacit acceptance of corruption in high places, and that even pledges of resolute action will come to nothing.

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