Friday, 17 September 2021

ITS A FACADE : ED ANTI-GRAFT CRUSADE RUBBISHED

 WHEN he took over power in a November 2017 coup, President Emmerson Mnangagwa won the hearts of many sceptics after he pledged to deal with corruption, a vice widely believed to be stalling development in the southern African country.

After disbanding the Zimbabwe Anti-Corruption Commission (Zacc) board accused of perpetrating corruption and appointing a new team, Mnangagwa went on to establish the Special Anti-Corruption Unit (Sacu) in his office to prove his determination to fight graft.

He also designated a specific court to deal with corruption cases.

But four years down the line, observers say the situation on the ground shows that his anti-graft fight was nothing but a facade.

Many people think Mnangagwa is using anti-graft fight to fight factionalism in his ruling Zanu PF party.

Insiders within the ruling party have raised concerns over insignificant progress on convictions and prosecution of party members arrested by the Zacc and Sacu on graft charges.

Sacu, an arm in Mnangagwa’s office, critics say is a tool to punish his political foes.

The criticism followed the arrest of several Zanu PF bigwigs on graft charges following a “name-and-shame” operation by the party youth league in 2019.

However, the party has not yet taken disciplinary action against those named as “corrupt” despite its pledges to support the government’s fight against corruption. Instead, the whistleblowers, Pupurai Togarepi and Lewis Mathutu were demoted while Godfrey Tsenegmau was fired from the party.

Zanu PF Makonde senator and ex-Cabinet minister Priscah Mupfumira was the only one arrested and sacked in 2019 on allegations of abusing US$95 million from the National Social Security Authority (NSSA).

She denied the allegations. The court case has revolved many times and the figure reduced significantly, raising fears that the case could collapse. In fact, it appears it is only a matter of time before she is acquitted.

Despite the allegations, her bail conditions were recently relaxed and she was authorised by Mnangagwa to travel to South Africa on Parliament business. Mupfumira remains a full member of Zanu PF.

Mupfumira recounted: “It all started with protracted social media allegations and abuse by (name supplied) and other Mashonaland West WhatsApp groups.

“Twice, I informed the President who advised me to ignore the honourable member since he (the alleged informant) was not a member of our party. This was followed by a name and shame by the party youth league executive members in July 2019 wherein my name was on the so-called list of government and Zanu PF corrupt leaders.

“The politburo then resolved to appoint a commission of enquiry to validate the allegations. I have still not yet been invited to appear before the commission to present my case. I am ready to present my story and answer any questions to the commission.”

She argued that she was the only person out of a list of over a dozen “so-called” corrupt leaders arrested by Zacc.

Her prolonged pre-trial detention did not conform to constitutional tenets of “presumption of innocence” until proven guilty, she added.

The former minister also said: “If the matter was founded on proper investigations and on the premise of reasonable evidence that warrants an arrest, then the trial ought to have commenced in earnest and should, even when one considers the accused’s concerns and applications on record have been nearly finalised.

“To illustrate this point, one needs to interrogate the conduct of the prosecuting authority on October 22, 2019 wherein now three new charges separate from the original seven came to the fore and whose trial has now commenced, this notwithstanding the fact that these three are insignificant to the original seven that were the focus of the State that fuelled the damning media blitz and court of public opinion.”

But Zanu PF acting spokesperson Mike Bimha told NewsDay Weekender that the ruling party does not interfere with functions of either Zacc or Sacu, but it was waiting for finalisation of the corruption cases involving its members at the courts for it to decisively deal with the matters.

“The party has never interfered with either Sacu or Zacc because they are independent State institutions,” Bimha said.

“When the cases are still before the courts, the party cannot take action against the accused persons. Once the cases are finalised, the party then can institute its own proceedings in dealing with such matters. In Mupfumira’s case, for instance, the party has already taken action against her when it suspended her from her post as the secretary for environment and tourism in the politburo.”

Recently, Mupfumira, contributing in the Senate challenged law enforcement agents to thoroughly investigate cases before arresting suspects, saying the “catch and release” practice adopted by police was abetting corruption.

“The problem is that there are a lot of false allegations that are going on. So, no one will take us seriously and we will score lowly when it comes to the index,” she said.

“Human dignity should be considered when there are arrests or allegations. When there is an investigation, there should be a good investigation. Law enforcement agents should be well-trained to separate rumours and reasonable allegations.”

In 2018, then Home Affairs minister Obert Mpofu refused to appear before the Parliamentary Portfolio Committee on Mines and Energy to give evidence on the alleged $15 billion diamond funds which went missing while he was still Mines minister.

Like Mupfumira, the party secretary for administration, Mpofu has never appeared before an internal disciplinary action, raising concerns over selective application of the law for political ends.

Police Commissioner Douglas Nyakutsikwa, who was arrested by Sacu after he allegedly used his influence as a senior police officer to get residential stands for himself told Harare magistrate Ngoni Nduna that his case was being politicised.

The challenged the Sacu constitutionality at the Constitutional Court.

A Zanu PF member who declined to be named said: “Mupfumira first appeared in court on July 25, 2019 and had been on routine remand until the end of the year since the State was not ready for trial.”

“Her trial only commenced in July 2020, but throughout the period from her arrest, there has not been significant progress in the finalisation of her case for the past two years. She is not the only one who is in this predicament. Charges are being brought against members, but without trial and the matters are being postponed continuously. What is worrisome is that there are several other members, who have serious corruption cases to answer, but are being exempted from facing the full wrath of the law.”

Zacc spokesperson John Makamure said there was no selective application of the law in the manner the commission was handling corruption cases. He refuted allegations that there was interference with its functions by the Executive.

There was no deliberate intention by Zacc, Makamure said, to delay finalisation of corruption cases, but some litigants were not keen to stand trial.

“Suspects on corruption cases are granted bail by the courts, which is their constitutional right and Zacc cannot prevent granting of bail to a suspect, in accordance with the law,” Makamure said.

“On Mupfumira’s case, there has been a perceived prolonged delay in the finalisation of her cases because she was granted bail. (She) has been submitting several applications resulting in her matter being delayed.”

This week, Makamure said Zacc was engaging the National Prosecuting Authority to ensure corruption cases are resolved quickly.

Sacu director Thabani Mpofu said: “I will not respond to that. The allegations could be raised by an accused person who is trying to exonerate him or herself outside court.”

The 2020 Transparency International Corruption Perception Index (CPI) ranked Zimbabwe 150 out of 187 highly corrupt countries after it scored 24% on corruption fighting.

The country’s institutions continue to be dysfunctional, and there are limited integrity mechanisms in place to curb corruption. Yet, the government still fails to provide basic services to citizens, and the security situation remains precarious.

Last year, Harare magistrate Bianca Makwande bemoaned unnecessary delays on graft cases, adding that continued postponement of the cases would result in a gridlock of pending matters at the courts. Newsday

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