What’s the point of code of conduct for VPs and Ministers without one for President?

The recent ruling by High Court judge Justice David Mangota, giving the Justice Minister, and the Attorney General, 45 days to develop a code of conduct for Zimbabwe’s Vice Presidents and Cabinet Ministers, in accordance with section 106(3) of the Constitution, laid bare the inadequacies of the country’s supreme law.

Tendai Ruben Mbofana

 

In as much as it is undeniable that the people entrusted with leading our nation need to be guided by some form of a code of conduct – which should guarantee that they are held to the highest standards and expectations, as a sure recipe for good leadership and Zimbabwe’s development – what sense is there to this formula when the President is excluded from similar scrutiny and measurement?

We all know the popular adage, “a fish rots from the head”, and nothing can be more truthful that this in any society.

Even in the nuclear family, although parents may resort to the easier and more convenient route of always placing the blame for their children’s delinquencies squarely on the children themselves – truth be told, the apple never falls that far from the tree, and our offspring, more or less, become who they saw in us.

It is utterly pointless, and sheer disingenuity, when a father shouts at, or even beats up his son for turning out a pathetic drunk – when, he himself (the father) also imbibed the intoxicating waters like a fish.

The cardinal rule for any good leadership is to always lead by example – and, what is expected of the subordinates should equally apply to the “big boss”.

It would be totally unrealistic to demand the highest standards and deliverables from others, when the one in charge is not held to the same – if not higher – expectations.

In fact, a former employer of mine, some 20 years ago, once taught me a profound lesson, as he was hiring me, “an exceptional leader surrounds himself with those who are better than himself, so that, he is stretched to the limit, as more is always required of him”!

That lesson has stuck with me ever since.

Therefore, though I am not faulting the learned High Court judge, since his ruling was in line with Zimbabwe’s 2013 Constitution – nevertheless, the fact that the prescribing of a code of conduct for the President was not provided for, leaves a lot to be desired, and does not augur well for the country.

I remember after the country attained her independence in 1980, there was so much noise around a “Leadership Code” – which required the ruling elite to declare all their wealth before assuming office, and were prohibited from engaging in any activities meant for self-aggrandizement.

This was the same ”Leadership Code” which frowned upon such dubious dealings as the so-called “Willowgate” scandal, that witnessed several Cabinet Ministers falling by the wayside, after procuring motor vehicles from the state-owned Willowvale Mazda Motor Industries at concessionary prices, yet later reselling them for extortionary profits.

Notwithstanding the admirable discipline which such a code demanded from the country’s leadership, its existence was short-lived – a clear sign of the ruling class’ reluctance towards, or even disdain for, any form of accountability and responsibility to the citizenry.

Thereafter, those in power in Zimbabwe were unhinged, looting the nation’s resources with reckless abandon, engaging in the vilest immoral and perverted behavior, and general misconduct, with relative impunity.

It was, therefore, most encouraging when a provision was included in the country’s supreme law for the prescribing of a code of conduct for Vice Presidents, Ministers, and Deputy Ministers.

What about the President?

Why is that office omitted?

My personal thinking is that, we as Zimbabweans have not matured enough to move beyond the personalization of public offices.

I am quite sure when these provisions were made, the office of the President was identified with a particular individual – in the case of the 2013 Constitution, that was the late ousted tyrant, Robert Gabriel Mugabe, who was regarded as untouchable and not to be questioned.

As such, how can a nation expect to develop and prosper, when laws are enacted, amended, or repelled with specific persons in mind?

Even under the Emmerson Dambudzo Mnangagwa administration, we have watched the same trends repeating themselves, in shock and bewilderment.

Was the Constitutional Amendment (No.2) Act, which was signed into law in May 2021 by Mnangagwa – and, extended the retirement age of judges from 70 to 75 years old – not promulgated solely with one man in mind?

This also includes the troubling ramblings that were heard in the same year, to the effect that the ruling ZANU PF party was planning to amend the country’s supreme law, so as to raise the age for which a Zimbabwean was illegible to run for president, from the current 40 years to around 52 – in order just to prevent opposition leader Nelson Chamisa (who is 44) from contesting both the 2023 and 2028 presidential elections.

Surely, how can a country be run successfully, when its laws are tailor-made for certain individuals?

Is that not myopic and foolhardy?

What is to happen, should ZANU PF – let us say, 10 years from now – finds itself with a 42 year old as its most promising and viable presidential candidate?

Amend the Constitution again?

Be that as it may, the glaring failure by the 2013 Constitution to prescribe a code of conduct for the President, practically renders all other efforts to hold everyone else to the highest standards ineffective.

How can subordinates feel obligated to adhere to certain guidelines, yet the President is free to do whatever he pleases?

That can never, and has never, worked.

If the head begins to rot, as sure as day comes after night, the rest of the fish will follow suit.

However, as long as we are still immature and short-sighted, and only perceive a particular individual whenever the title “President” is mentioned – failing to regard laws as long-term, which affect even whomever will be in power 100 years from today (maybe, even Chamisa, if he manages to win the presidency in forthcoming elections) – then we are not going anywhere forward as nation.

If Zimbabweans are genuine about stamping the rot in this country, then we need to hold each and every one of us accountable and to the highest standards – including the head of state and government – as there should never be any sacred cows on this land.

© Tendai Ruben Mbofana is a social justice activist, writer, researcher, and social commentator. Please feel free to contact him on WhatsApp/Call: +263715667700 / +263782283975, or Calls Only: +263788897936 / +263733399640, or email: [email protected]

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