Once upon a time, a sheep farmer got a new and larger farm. Complete with a big sheep pen. Instead of using the pen, the farmer decided to keep his sheep in the lounge. Sheepish, you would say.
Never mind, this could be a fireside yarn. But there is a similar and real story here. It relates to President Emmerson Mnangagwa’s recent decision to set up the Special Anti-Corruption Unit (Sacu) in the Office of the President and Cabinet (OPC).
The president is just like the sheep farmer. The bigger farm is his new position as president after being elevated to that position courtesy of a military intervention that kicked out much-loathed Robert Mugabe. The pen are the existing anti-corruption agencies inclusive of the Zimbabwe Anti-Corruption Commission (Zacc) and the police. The lounge is the OPC.
When he made the announcement last week, the Chief Secretary to the OPC and Cabinet, Misheck Sibanda, claimed that Sacu was there to improve efficiency and effectiveness in the fight against all forms of corruption.
Before the ink dried, Ziyambi Ziyambi, the Justice minister, was telling us a different fable. He said the unit would be used to fight high profile corruption, considering that the existing units were failing to do that in a big way. That introduces the first inconsistency, if not contradiction. There is a gaping difference between “all forms of corruption” and “high profile corruption”. The latter is more specific and quite focused.
Any amount of hollering by the officials will not wash away the fact that Sacu is an absurdity. I am not going to fret too much about the legality of the unit as some lawyers are already doing, because not much was said about its nature and form. But one glaring, if not unsettling, reality is that the establishment of the unit betrays an unsaid tendency towards dictatorship in the new president and his dispensation.
It looks like President Mnangagwa is rattling towards an unprecedented centralisation of power, an unmistakable trait among authoritarians. Instead of using the spacious pen that he found on the farm, he wants to rear the sheep in his lounge. He is saying the shepherds are useless and he is the only one who can do it well.
It is not as though the existing agencies can’t fight corruption. Zacc, the police, the National Prosecuting Authority and other relevant departments can still do that. What is needed—and this is one thing I climbed onto the rooftop about when the new administration started running our lives—is to reform and restructure the anti-corruption outfits that we already have.
You need to take another look at the agencies and decide how best you can remove the mediocrity and rot within them. You need to populate them with professionally chosen and competent officers and commissioners, give them working guidebooks and take your hands off their work. You need to give them adequate resources and ensure they bring good results.
That means you mustn’t start thinking of duplicating their work by setting up a weird goblin like Sacu. What that says is you feel and think that everything must be done right under your nose. Before we know it, you will be telling us who must be prosecuted and who must not. I doubt it very much that the president would clear Sacu to arrest and initiate the prosecution of his deputies, friends or wife. Sacu, effectively, is bringing the anti-corruption fight firmly in the pocket of the presidium, and that is ominous.
Secondly, the decision to set up this parallel structure betrays Mnangagwa’s fatal lack of faith in State institutions. That is not encouraging for someone who has waited for so long to rule Zimbabwe. Statesmen have a constitutional and moral obligation to believe in the relevance, importance and value of State institutions. If they feel otherwise and think that those institutions are redundant, they know where to go and what to do.
They must use existing systems and processes to push for their removal or reformation. For instance, Zacc is there by way of an Act of Parliament. The executive arm of government must take appropriate steps to effect changes to the commission by approaching Parliament either for the amendment of the relevant law or the abolition of the agency. Leaving Zacc as it is and setting up Sacu as a parallel structure means State resources will continue to be drained. This is the duplication and extravagance that institutions like the IMF and World Bank that the Mnangagwa administration is so keen to re-embrace must be worried about.
It betrays a cowardly culture of political governance. State institutions must not be approached with a personal attitude. They are unlike restaurants whereby you say, I will not go to that one because I don’t like fish or the waitresses are dirty. They transcend your tenure and personal taste and are provided for constitutionally. A true Statesman musn’t fear or detest them.
There is a very bad precedence in the decision to establish Sacu. It’s premised on the unfashionable thinking that if a department is not working well, just go ahead and set up another one to do the same job. Now, there are so many public departments and agencies that are performing very, very dismally. That means, before we know it, the OPC will be a government in its own right. At this rate, the administration’s OPC will duplicate all the insolvent and incompetent parastatals, build a prosecuting unit in there, set up new ministries and construct a new parliament for itself. Things can’t be crazier than that, can they?
Besides, Zacc is already operating under the OPC after being migrated from the Home Affairs ministry. The reason that was given when the commission was moved is that it was failing to effectively deal with some cases and was susceptible to political manipulation. The assumption was that it would operate better under the OPC. That was a tall lie, of course, for Zacc remains the same lame duck that we have always known it to be.
It looks like the new administration thinks we have the memory of a rhinoceros, which tends to forget its target the moment it turns. If Zacc was moved to the OPC to hasten its capacity to deal with corruption, what is now justifying the establishment of Sacu? You see, the justification for setting up the latter is the same as for bringing Zacc under the OPC. Why, then, did the new government not simply proceed with Zacc?
There is misleading propaganda about the OPC in this Sacu scandal. There are people out there who want us to believe that the OPC is infallible, all-righteous and Godly. That is a heretical myth. The OPC is as dirty as they come and, over the years, has demonstrated its own huge appetite for corruption and shoddy governance.
Remember, this is the same unit that gave—without even pretending to follow tender procedures— Marry Chiwenga a contract to manage President Mnangagwa’s travels. Marry is the wife of Mnangagwa’s deputy, Constantino, the ex-general who helped the new president to his position. That tender procedures were not followed is bad enough. What’s worse is that the OPC decided to delegate its own duties to a private company run by the Vice President’s wife. That is the same thing as making State affairs a personal business!
Tawanda Majoni is the national coordinator at Information for Development Trust (IDT) and can be contacted on firstname.lastname@example.org.
*This article was originally published by our media partner, the Standard (Zimbabwe)