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Lack of accountability is our biggest sanction in Zimbabwe!

“If you are shelling groundnuts for a blind man, you must keep whistling, so he knows you are not eating them.” African Proverb

The above African proverb I got from a friend as we were chatting about the state of our country and economy, sums up the levels of transparency, accountability and honesty required when one has the stewardship for resources that belong to the citizens. The recent events such as the Covidgate, where the procurement procedures were corruptly flaunted, Covid19 resources earmarked to combat the pandemic were being looted by the politically connected, the Crocogate where Land Cruisers were grossly overcharged from USD110 000 to USD 400 000, and the Command Agriculture looting, show that the biggest challenge we have as a nation is lack of accountability. The economic dynamics in Zimbabwe show that the collapsed economy is mainly because of bad governance, corruption, and lack of transparency and accountability, before we point our fingers at purported external factors.

Bad economic governance in Zimbabwe haemorrhages resources that are meant to fulfil citizens’ social and economic rights such as access to clean water, health, education, and adequate food. The economic burdens of mismanagement are then shouldered by the citizens, particularly the vulnerable. It is the citizens who pay for the luxuries of the elite. Women become the biggest unrecognised philanthropists who provide unpaid care work involuntarily. The costs of lack of accountability are massive for Zimbabwe, and, among other things, bad governance scares away genuine investors from the country and does not reward honest enterprise. It causes the economy to shrink and rolls back social investments in education, public transport, and health, for instance. This is our biggest self-imposed sanctions that we must urgently deal with as a first step towards the revival of the economy and the improvement of the lives of all the people of Zimbabwe.

The Zimbabwe government, under the leadership of President ED Mnangagwa from the day he assumed office, has known the right things to say. In his inaugural speech in November 2017 he was very explicit that sanctions were not the cause of Zimbabwe’s economic woes. In 2018, He went on to make a pledge after the elections and acknowledge the importance of accountability by leaders and made commitment to root out corruption and to grow the economy for the benefit of all Zimbabweans. His own ZANU-PF political party manifesto of 2018 preaches the same.

Over two years down the line, reports of gross, obscene corruption and mismanagement of public resources have continued to pour in. Abuse of public offices by senior government officials continues unabated as the economy continues to tumble, more so amidst the coronavirus pandemic which has caused serious negative social and economic impacts in Zimbabwe and globally.

When one assesses the government expenditure, the use of public funds, from the routine hiring of private jets, subsidies for fuel, command agriculture, the grain millers and the approval and purchasing of overpriced supplies such as the Drax USD60million tender for COVID-19 supplies, and the Croco Motors land cruisers among many others, it is clear that we are the main authors of our crises. It is us who must take corrective measures and write a different, better story for our people and for future generations.

The Office of the Auditor General has exposed grand financial anomalies over the years, exposing bad corporate governance, corruption, and wasteful expenditures, especially in public procurement. This was also noted in the analysis done by civil society organisations African Forum and Network on Debt and Development (AFRODAD) and Zimbabwe Coalition on Debt and Development (ZIMCODD) in 2019 on Public Debt Management in Zimbabwe. The Public Accounts Parliamentary Portfolio Committee has been that spotlight in Parliament and has called on some of those involved in the misuse of public finances for hearings and have called for action to stop the rot. Civil Society organisations such as ZIMCODD and Transparency International-Zimbabwe (TI-Z) have called on government to put in place mechanisms and strong institutions and systems that promote accountability. Zimbabwe does not have a policy crisis or lack of robust legal frameworks. It simply suffers from the sheer lack of accountability where public officials break laws and face no sanctions for doing so and leaders are not answerable to the citizens.

A study commissioned by ZIMCODD established that Zimbabwe’s grand political corruption is the major driver of fiscal deficits and the exponential growth of public debt beyond the legal threshold of 70 per cent. The conflation of the state, politics and business is a triangular marriage that has continued to push the monetary, fiscal and economic burdens to the ordinary citizens who are muzzled and disempowered to hold those in the vortex of corruption and abuse of power accountable. Impunity is an embedded culture and no one is willing to be held accountable for economic and financial crimes being committed.

As government continues to fragment and disenfranchise institutions, Constitutional Amendment Bill Number 2 which has clause 23 which seeks to take away parliamentary oversight role on public borrowing from foreign entities. With all that Zimbabwe is going through, it would be more prudent to strengthen the oversight and accountability institutions, to build confidence and trust from all stakeholders, to create a stable and predictable business environment, to have the currency of trust flow amongst the citizens by being proactive in sharing credible information from formal channels by government.

Accountability must be seen from the analogy of the window and the mirror. For the past two decades, leadership in this country has looked through the window for someone something else outside their sphere to apportion blame for its failures to the extent of the claim by a senior government official that the white man did not teach us how to run the economy! They are continuously gazing in the mirror to take credit for what they have done for this nation from the liberation struggle, to the fast track land reform, indigenisation laws among other many achievements they highlight. This has given leadership great entitlement and a sense of ownership owing nothing to the citizens.

However the use of the window and the mirror analogy must be the other way round. If Zimbabwe is going to unlock its full potential, for the failures, leadership must look in the mirror, self-introspect and take responsibility – that is the highest level of accountability required at this stage and look through the window to see the many citizens who have really taken it upon themselves to sustain this country by being so industrious and going beyond the cliché of resilience to survive. These are the citizens they owe not only the wafer-thin electoral democracy but substantive democracy where leadership actions, policies are brought before public scrutiny and there is willingness to be held accountable.

Going forward, Zimbabweans must know that to move forward there is need for everyone to look in the mirror and self-introspect about what being a nation means, what independence means for all of us and re-imagination of the state and role of leadership and the citizens is important to put in the matrix. Where leadership has been inept in discharge of duty and mandate given by the citizens the same citizens must be able to approach institutions that are independent for redress or recall of such leadership. More importantly where leaders fail to deliver on their obligations to citizens, they must be held accountable through robust systems and independent institutions. Sometimes it makes political and economic sense for the authorities to be open to a genuine multi-dimensional dialogue that places citizens at the centre towards finding solutions that leverage on all strengths that the country is endowed with. Our current crisis is primarily internally authored and driven, rather than a result of external factors. We are the people who must fix it. None but ourselves.

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