Watchdog: Crumbling Zim ripe for corruption

Zimbabwe’s failing economy and collapsing services have provided an environment ripe for graft, with the impoverished country’s woes facilitating an ever-worsening slide towards corruption.

Despite setting up a local graft-busting body in 2004, Zimbabwe appears to be losing the battle against corruption, with President Robert Mugabe’s economic policies seen to promote corrupt behaviour, according to a leading watchdog.

In 2003 Transparency International (TI), an organisation monitoring global corruption, ranked Zimbabwe the 77th most corrupt out of 130 countries evaluated. By 2005, Zimbabwe had slid to 130th of 163 countries.

“Zimbabwe is ranked 130th amongst 163 countries and it has become very corrupt compared with others,” Killron Dembe, executive director of TI in Zimbabwe, said.

The most recent corruption index did not bode well for foreign investment in the crisis-ridden country, Dembe said.

He said the country’s “economic malaise” had increased levels of corruption among a population burdened by steep prices of essentials and food shortages.

“When you have people who have become billionaires overnight and are considered as role models, you have a challenge because this becomes part of the country’s culture,” he said.

Dembe said Mugabe’s economic policies were exacerbating the situation, despite his anti-graft crusade yielding arrests of senior government officials.

“Zimbabwe needs proper policies to end corruption. Distorted policy regimes tend to promote corruption,” Dembe said.

“When you have different exchange rates and different fuel prices, that promotes corruption.”

Nothing tangible

Since August last year, the authorities have kept the local unit at 250 Zimbabwe dollars against the greenback, yet on the parallel market it has slid to 230 000.

Zimbabwe is facing an economic meltdown with inflation of over 7 500% and unemployment above 80%.

In a 2006 meeting of the ruling Zanu-PF, Mugabe acknowledged corruption had reached the party’s upper echelons, saying he wanted to cleanse the central committee amid “many cases” of abuse of authority.

However, the country’s Anti-Corruption Commission, set up with the assistance of TI, has little to show from its fight against corruption.

“They have done nothing tangible.
There is nothing visible,” Dembe said of the commission, whose chairperson is appointed by Mugabe.

“The commission is answerable to the executive ... It’s limited in terms of independence and its major challenges are resources and capacity,” Dembe said.

“The question is what is happening on the ground ... there is no visible action taking place?”

One of the few to be convicted was Charles Nherera, chief executive of public bus company Zupco, who was jailed for accepting a US$85 000 bribe from a Harare businessman whom he awarded with a contract for 75 buses.

Former finance minister Chris Kuruneri was acquitted in July after being accused of smuggling money abroad to build a house in South Africa.

Johannes Tomana, deputy chairperson of the commission, said the public had reported 9 000 graft cases since 2006.

Of these, the commission was probing 5 000 cases, out of which only 27 had been tried in court “and we secured 22 convictions”, state media quoted Tomana as saying.

“Nobody is immune,” he said, urging whistle-blowers to report corruption as the public was protected by law and would not be victimised by those under probe.

But the opposition remains sceptical, with Movement for Democratic Change spokesperson Nelson Chamisa saying the graft battle was a “big joke”.

“Just look around, corruption is being administered from various centres of power. All state institutions are oozing with corrupt tendencies.” he added.

Forced to shut down

Meanwhile, a second major bakery in Zimbabwe has announced it is about to run out of flour, worsening already acute bread shortages, reports said on Thursday.

Innscor, which runs the Bakers Inn chain of outlets, says it has almost exhausted its reserve stocks of flour and will have to send more than 800 workers countrywide on forced leave, said the official government mouthpiece Herald newspaper.

“We only have three days’ supply of flour left, and if we do not get any additional supplies then we will be forced to shut down until we get new supplies,” Innscor’s financial director, Owen Murumbi, told the paper.

The announcement came a day after Lobels, another major bakery, said it only had just two days’ supply of flour left. It said it had sent more than 1, 00 of its workers on forced leave and closed its factory in the second city of Bulawayo.

“We are appealing to the relevant authorities to allocate more wheat to enable the company to remain in business and make sure we feed the nation,” Innscor’s Murumbi said.

He said the company required 80 tons of flour a day to produce 180 000 loaves of bread, which is a national staple.

President Robert Mugabe’s government says it is only importing small quantities of wheat because it cannot afford to pay for a consignment of 36 000 tons stuck at Beira port in Mozambique.

Bread shortages have been worsened by the government’s price controls imposed in June that saw prices of basic commodities slashed by at least 50%.

Bakers who say they are now producing bread at a loss have reduced production, resulting in long winding queues outside stores and bakeries.

There is little relief in sight, as Zimbabwe’s wheat harvest due at the end of October is expected to be the lowest in the seven years since the government launched a controversial programme to seize productive farms from white farmers for redistribution to black Zimbabweans.—Sapa-AFP, dpa

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