Why Mugabe won't act on graft

Factionalism, camaraderie and entitlement are the pillars of Robert Mugabe's reluctance to punish wrongdoing. (Reuters)

Factionalism, camaraderie and entitlement are the pillars of Robert Mugabe's reluctance to punish wrongdoing. (Reuters)

President Robert Mugabe will not act on corruption regardless of his recent public anger and threats display of imminent arrests of crooked senior officials, according to political analysts who spoke to the Mail & Guardian this week.

Last week, at a belated 90th birthday party hosted by the Civil Service Commission, a fuming Mugabe revealed that a Cabinet minister and a female member of Parliament had demanded a $120 000 bribe from a prospective investor, warning that the arrest of senior officials over graft allegations was imminent.

But Mugabe's public outburst and declaration has been met with scepticism. University of Zimbabwe political science lecturer Professor Eldred Masunungure said Mugabe had no will to fight corruption and was merely making pronouncements to pacify the restive public.

He said the deep-rooted factionalism in Zanu-PF, comradeship and the desire to protect his cronies, as well as a sense of entitlement to the country's natural resources made Mugabe reluctant to punish corrupt officials.

"He is fully aware that the issue of corruption has caught the imagination of the nation and he has to appear to share the public concern. The emphasis is on appearance, the concern is symbolic, but it lacks substance because he has no desire to follow through," said Masunungure.

Mugabe's remarks came in the wake of recent media exposure of corruption in struggling state-owned enterprises.
According to reports, top officials are allegedly awarding themselves generous salaries – at a time when the companies are already a burden on the fiscus – while failing to discharge their national mandates.

Public Service Medical Aid Association chief executive officer Cuthbert Dube has been fingered for earning $500 000 a month. Some ministers have also allegedly been receiving gifts of cars, fuel and cash from the parastatal bosses who report to them.

On Tuesday government capped the salaries of bosses of all parastatals at $6 000.

Masunungure believes factionalism in Zanu-PF is another reason why Mugabe's hands are tied.

"At the moment everything in Zanu-PF is viewed in the context of factionalism," Masunungure said. "He can't order the arrest of a minister who belongs to one of the factions without ordering the arrest of a minister who belongs to the other faction, because he will be seen as propping up one faction against the other."

Senior party officials jostling to succeed Mugabe in the party confirm that there are two factions, one led by Vice-President Joice Mujuru and the other by Justice Minister Emerson Mnangagwa – although both deny a split.

"He has to tread carefully, and in a way the factional fights have made him impotent to act. Even with chief executive officers of parastatals, he cannot act because they also belong to the factions. That's why we haven't seen any real action."

A corrupt country
Zimbabwe is now one of the most corrupt countries in the world and was ranked 157th out of 177 in the 2013 Transparency International corruption perception index – with one being the least corrupt and 177 being the most corrupt.

But Zanu-PF spokesperson Rugare Gumbo told the M&G that the opinions of analysts are unimportant to his party because they are not facts. He said Zanu-PF's position is very clear: the party does not condone corruption and that Mugabe, Mujuru and the politburo members were united in this regard.

"We want the issue of corruption dealt with. Of course investigations should be carried out whenever allegations are made, regardless of who is implicated," Gumbo said.

The chairman of Transparency International Zimbabwe, Loughty Dube, said it is the executive that is to blame for the rising corruption and that Mugabe is unlikely to act.

"Which top official has been arrested for corruption? No one. In fact, people have been rewarded for corruption, so this is mere rhetoric from the president," said Dube.

Transparency International was worried about Zimbabwe's rankings on the corruption perception index because it showed graft had spread to all levels. This, he said, made the country an unattractive destination for investment and tourism and also tarnished its image.

The problem also comes from a sense of entitlement going back to the 1980s, he said. "It appears the people who went to war are untouchable. It seems people are being rewarded for going to war and the worst thing that can happen for those implicated is that they are moved from one position to another, where they continue looting."

Culture of impunity
Masunungure said the culture of impunity can be traced back to the Willowgate scandal of the 1980s when several ministers and top government officials were implicated in a car scam, in which they bought vehicles duty-free and sold them off at huge profits. He said, although the government initially made moves to arrest corrupt officials and put in place the Sandura Commission to probe the graft, moves were then made to protect some officials after the realisation of how widespread the corruption was.

"From that time, corruption has become the glue that unites Zanu-PF. It seems everyone among the political elite is given some space to eat. If you rise to a certain level you are entitled to eat," Masunungure said.

Last week's remarks are not the first time Mugabe has promised action that has amounted to nought.

At a luncheon after the opening of Parliament last September, Mugabe accused former Zimbabwe mining development corporation chairman Goodwill Masimirembwa of demanding and receiving a $6-million bribe from a Ghanaian businessman who had invested in the Chiadzwa diamond fields.

It was the first time Mugabe mentioned a public official by name. But no investigation followed amid whispers in government corridors that some senior government officials had also benefited.

At the Zanu-PF conference in Gweru in December 2012, a seemingly embarrassed but angry Mugabe revealed that former South African president Thabo Mbeki had informed him of how some Zimbabwean Cabinet ministers were frustrating a $1-billion investment by South African businesspeople by demanding a $10-million bribe.

Mugabe warned of dire consequences for those involved but to date nothing has happened.

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