Catch and Release, sacred cows: Why the fight against corruption is failing
By Bridget Mananavire
IN November 2017, the Zimbabwe Defence Forces went into the streets under an operation to deal with “criminal elements” that they claimed were around the late former President, Robert Mugabe.
They put Mugabe under house arrest for days while armed soldiers hounded other government officials that were close to him.
The “new” government led by Emmerson Mnangagwa came in with a promise that it would deal with corruption heavy-handedly and that there would no sacred cows.
In his own words in 2017, Mnangagwa said: “On individual cases of corruption, every case must be investigated and punished in accordance with the dictates of our laws. There should be no sacred cows. My government will have zero tolerance towards corruption and this has already begun.”
However, scandal after scandal has been exposed since 2017 but no substantial action has been taken against perpetrators.
Instead, we have witnessed the catch and release of bigwigs by the Zimbabwe Anti-Corruption Commission (ZACC) with most of the cases involving highly connected people tumbling before they even go to trial.
In a dramatic arrest in 2017, former Local Government Minister Ignatius Chombo was used as an example of how serious the “new dispensation” was in dealing with corruption but almost four years later, there has not been any progress on his case.
The former Local Government Minister was picked up by armed men from his home on November 15, 2017, and was later charged with criminal abuse of office and fraud for his dealings while at the helm of the Local Government ministry.
Chombo had to be admitted to a government hospital for injuries allegedly sustained from beatings while in detention, according to his lawyer Lovemore Madhuku.
Corruption has continued unabated with the country ranking 157 out of 180 countries on the Transparency International’s 2020 Corruption Perceptions Index and scored 24 points out of 100.
The Anti-corruption Court, which was established in 2018 to speed up the hearing of corruption cases, particularly at the Magistrates Court level has been used to deal with political cases.
According to a prominent lawyer, Beatrice Mtetwa it is unfortunate that the Anti-Corruption Court has been reduced to a weapon to deal with political opponents.
“The anti-corruption court is no longer being used as an anti-corruption court. It is a court that is being used to deal with perceived opponents and because they trust those magistrates.
“You can go to the courts to check it out yourself, you do not get bail before those magistrates unless the state concedes and when the state concedes bail, those magistrates who are not bound by state concession do not question why. I will give you two cases. If you look at Prisca Mupfumira, she was in court for months trying to get bail in custody. And she was refused bail. Then you look at (former Health Minister) Obadiah Moyo, he walked to court with cash.”
Both Moyo and Mupfumira were arrested for abuse of office in 2019 and their cases are progressing at a snail’s pace.
The former Environment, Tourism and Hospital Industry Minister, Mupfumira, was arrested and charged on allegations of corruption involving US$95 million.
Ironically, Mupfumira has been speaking against corruption and the “catch and release” system.
“The problem why we are not properly handling corruption is that you hear the issue of catch and release. You hear that people have been arrested because of corruption, but later you hear that they are released,” Mupfumira said in April during deliberations on corruption.
In June 2021, ZACC said it had forwarded 32 dockets to the National Prosecuting Authority (NPA), with nine being high profile cases, but those cases seem to have just remained stuck at the NPA.
This has raised concerns of political interference, delays in concluding cases involving prominent persons, and the quality of investigation and prosecution of corruption cases.
One show of confusion in the handling of cases is the arrest of the minister of States in the President’s Office in Charge of Implementation and Monitoring, Joram Gumbo in November 2019.
Initially, ZACC confirmed that they had arrested Gumbo, with reports that he had been arrested over the Zimbabwe Airways deal, which took place during his tenure as Transport Minister.
However, the commission then turned around to say he had only been picked up to help with investigations.
Also to be arrested for criminal abuse of office was former Health Minister, David Parirenyatwa.
He was charged with criminal abuse of office for meddling in the affairs of the board of management at the National Pharmaceutical Company (Natpharm)
His case has been on hold since 2018 with the Prosecutor General, Kumbirai Hodzi being accused of interfering with the case.
In 2020, Mnangagwa fired Health Minister Obadiah Moyo after an uproar over why he was still in office after he was exposed for his involvement in corruption cases related to the procurement of Covid 19 materials.
Moyo was later arrested and charged with corruption over illegally awarding a multi-million-dollar contract for medical equipment.
His arrest followed an investigation by ZACC and he was charged with criminal abuse of office over the awarding of a $60m contract to a company that allegedly sold medical supplies to the government at inflated prices.
His trial has now been set to commence on September 6, 2021.
The businessman who was involved in the Moyo case and supplied Covid-19 material to the government at inflated prices, Delish Nguwaya was however freed and instead the people who had arrested him were the ones who were targeted.
Nguwaya has since been removed from remand.
Magistrate Ngoni Nduna said prosecutors had failed to provide cogent reasons why the Drax International country representative, an associate of Mnangagwa’s twin sons Shaun and Collins, should be further remanded.
Prosecutors will now proceed by way of summons, but history has it that cases rarely get revived after a suspect is removed from remand.
Following Nguwaya’s release, ZACC however went in for the investigating officer, Superintendent Naboth Nyachega, who was also the liaison person with Interpol on the case and arrested him.
He was charged with criminal abuse of office and bribery over claims he was given a housing stand by corrupt Harare City Council officials to induce him to abandon a corruption probe into the allocation of housing stands worth US$1 million in Kuwadzana suburb, Harare.
Nyachega’s boss, Assistant Commissioner Obeylaw Moyo, who gave the go-ahead for Nguwaya’s arrest, was also arrested on similar charges. Moyo was in charge of the Criminal Investigations Department’s Commercial Crimes Unit, which headed the investigation into Drax International dealings.
This goes to show how the small fish are the only ones being caught by the anti-corruption dragnet.
Among individuals who have been incarcerated in connection with corruption is the former principal of State Residents in the office of the President and Cabinet, Douglass Tapfuma was jailed last year for four years after being convicted on three counts of criminal; abuse of office.
Tapfuma was found guilty of importing eight personal cars, while in the process of evading paying duty. He was sentenced to six years in prison, two were suspended and all eight vehicles were forfeited by the state. His trial was quick and in her judgement magistrate, Esther Chivasa said Tapfuma’s actions had been well calculated knowing that no one would scrutinise his acts because of the office he was holding.
After falling out with the new government former Energy and Power Development minister Samuel Undenge was convicted and sentenced to 36 months in 2018 for abuse of office.
He was, however, released in a Presidential clemency order.
Undenge had been found guilty of hand-picking a Public Relations company owned by former Zanu PF legislator Psychology Maziwisa and former ZBC news anchor Oscar Pambuka to do work for the Zimbabwe Power Company (ZPC) without going to tender and apparently costing the company US$1260.
The company did not go to tender and the action cost ZPC US$12 650.
Political opponents of the ruling party Zanu PF have also been on the receiving end with Harare mayors belonging to the MDC Alliance Herbert Gomba and Jacob Mafume also being targeted in what has been criticized as political persecution by anti-corruption units in order to take over control of the capital.
On top of walking the talk on fighting corruption, there is a need to build the capacity and expertise of investigators, prosecutors, and judicial officers, strengthen coordination between state anti-corruption agencies and legislation to protect whistle-blowers.
The fight against corruption should not be limited or restricted to political opponents and there should be no sacred cows.