Here and there, the Zimbabwean Parliament excites us with brilliant flashes of commitment to its oversight role. Where the anti-corruption drive is concerned, no doubt, the legislature has over the years laboured to produce amazing investigative work. Sadly, there has hardly been a smile after that.
corruptionwatch WITH TAWANDA MAJONI
The parliamentary committee for the Mines and Mining Development portfolio has just released a brave and revealing report cataloguing the role of mining companies, government officials and foreign syndicates in corrupt diamond sales, illicit financial flows and smuggling. The committee must be hailed for producing this evidence-based and in-depth report which certainly provides some valuable pieces to the jig-saw puzzle of the looting of the Marange diamonds.
This latest report from the portfolio committee is a good sequel to the gem that was produced in 2013 when the late Edward Chindori Chininga headed the team. The Chininga report, people will recall, added rich insight to independent reports on the looting of the diamonds. It cast sparkling light on the fraudulent omissions and commissions of senior government officials, public entities, political proxies and underground syndicates in the diamond leakages.
Not only that. It also made a total of 21 recommendations that were informed by its findings. They included the framing of a clear legal framework to effectively regulate mineral production and marketing, provision of appropriate punishment for offending companies, due diligence on mining suitors, working taxation laws and a comprehensive audit of diamond mining in Marange.
In between, the committee has also instigated oral hearings to follow up on reports of corruption and its own findings. An outstanding case is that of the Mines and Mining Development permanent secretary, Francis Gudyanga. He is that senior government official who was the sole board member at the Minerals Marketing Corporation of Zimbabwe at one time and still stands accused of a litany of deals that seem to indicate abuse of office.
Other portfolio, ad hoc and thematic committees of parliament that play an oversight role have made interesting findings in the past. The parliamentary library must now be heaving with reports and Hansards detailing explicit and suspected corruption at state-owned enterprises that include the Grain Marketing Board, the Zimbabwe Roads Administration, the Zimbabwe United Passenger Company, Air Zimbabwe, NetOne, National Railways of Zimbabwe and the Zimbabwe Electricity Supply Authority.
The Public Accounts Committee (PAC) has also been breaking a big seat reporting on fraud, corruption and abuse of office within public entities, drawing to a large extent from audits carried out by the Office of the Auditor General. The PAC reports have formed a good basis for both debate and oral hearings in Parliament.
All these efforts, unfortunately, have only flattered to deceive. While they have provided rich information on corruption, the committees, and thus Parliament as a whole, have to a large extent failed to bring culprits to book. And this is because of their tendency to train most of their focus on producing documents and jaw-jawing in parliament at the expense of definitive action to deal with corrupt elements.
In September 2015, Gavin Woods, a famed South African politician, urged lawmakers to adopt policies and interventions that ensure that corruption is not only investigated, but palpable action taken against the culprits.
He was making a presentation at the European Union Parliament in Brussels. The anti-corruption oversight role of the legislature loses meaning if Woods’ advice is ignored, as seems to be the case here. This would be similar to a puff adder which, after biting its perceived enemy, just disappears into the grass.
Section 119 of the Constitution obligates Parliament, to which other arms of government are accountable, to promote democracy and good governance. Oversight roles of Parliament include specialised investigations by select committees and is supported by a variety of authorities, among them the Constitution, public law as well as chamber and committee rules. Oversight is ideally supposed to provide checks and balances in a complex range of public and non-public systems and processes.
It is meant to improve the efficiency and effectiveness of such processes and systems and must deliver on detecting and preventing poor administration, waste, abuse as well as illegal and unconstitutional conduct. Parliament, through its oversight committees, has the power and jurisdiction to inquire into such unacceptable conduct and try and convict offenders who are deemed to act in contempt of the august house.
This is where the crux of my quarrel with Parliament resides. Despite the good work it has done to investigate matters relating to corruption, it seems that the legislature, as an institution, has in the main failed to mine capital out of this power that the law has vested in it. For instance, it is almost four years after the Chininga report was tabled in Parliament. Yet hardly anything has been done to follow through the useful findings and recommendations that it made. There have been feeble follow-ups in Parliament after the presentation, yes, but no meaningful results have been produced.
I find it particularly disappointing that it took some three years for government to institute an audit into the Marange diamonds exploitation. It seems Parliament didn’t bring itself to force the executive to act expeditiously and when the audit took off, it was a bit too late. The mining companies had been ordered to close shop and are now, understandably, resisting cooperating with the auditors. In any case, I have not heard the house make any noise or take action against relevant authorities who seem to have already slumped in the attempt to audit the companies and other agencies or authorities that were involved in the massive leakage of the gems.
One would have expected Parliament to vigorously pursue the recommendations of the Chininga report and ensure that they are respected. All those recommendations relate to particular institutions and individual authorities. The formula must be simple. Take those individuals and authorities to task and make sure that they abide by the recommendations and are made to account for their actions. If they don’t do that, they are acting in contempt. And being contemptuous to Parliament is an offence to which the house can respond with a penalty. Not those wishy-washy and token penalties, but really deterrent ones, and that includes sending the offenders to jail.
Culprits would always do their best to avoid punishment. Most of the corruption cases involve public officials who are part of the executive. As we have often seen, the executive, by hook and crook, seeks to frustrate investigations and the punishment that would come with that. But that arm of government must remain accountable to the legislature, and lawmakers must seriously consider using their position of authority in this regard and ensure that meaningful punishment is exerted.
Without that, the incisive reports and rigorous interrogations in the house will yield absolutely nothing. The long and short of it is that Parliament must learn to bite if its fight against corruption is to make sense.
Tawanda Majoni is the national coordinator at Information for Development Trust (IDT), a non-profit organisation promoting access to information on public and private sector governance, transparency and accountability, and can be contacted on firstname.lastname@example.org.