Why do Zimbabweans engage in corruption?

Corruption is seen as a driver of poverty and injustice however people continue to engage in it.

Most cases of corruption in Zimbabwe are “win-win” endeavours especially bribes, often times the people seen as victims are the ones who initiate it. This is rather a shocking assesment of a practice so loathed by governments, aid agencies and the general civil society. To address corruption however we have to confront these truths, we have to look at corruption as it is done in practice not as it is reported in the media or government communiques.

We know that more than two thirds of Zimbabweans have paid a bribe to access public services in 2019 according to a study by Afrobarometer. We also know that Zimbabwe is the 23rd most corrupt country in the world according to the recent Transparency International Corruption Perspectives Index rankings, this is not a coicidence, there is widespread corruption in Zimbabwe.

Even without paying attention to studies, most Zimbabweans can admit to have been in stuations where they felt compelled to pay a bribe and those who opt not to pay can admit to have paid more or suffered more than they would have if they would have paid.

Corruption which includes bribery and extortion is often referred to as the misuse of public office for private gain, in Zimbabwe however because of the perpetual scarcities of basics, private players also find themselves misusing their economic power to arm-twist consumers to pay more, with their employees milking consumers to help them skip the line and or gain favours. The Zimbabwean context thus add another layer of corruption.

There are generally three tiers of corruption, high level corruption involving government officials, often with foreign governments and corporations, middle level corruption where civil servants take kickbacks or abuse their positions to award favors and the day to day low level corruption where ordinary people take advantage of others as we have seen with simple actions such as skipping a bread queue after paying a security officer some bond notes.

For the past few months I have been looking for reasons why people end up engaging in corrupt activities especially bribery, I was shocked to see that core reasons are not that complicated, they are so simple however so multifaceted.

Using recent corruption allegations especially in connection with COVID-19 management we can see that not all corruption is driven by egoistic self-interests especially when we look at high level corruption. The supremacy of politics, ambiguous procedures, lack of oversight and on a positive side the need to speed up processes are main drivers of corruption at state level.

The then Health and Childcare Minister Obediah Moyo speaks to journalists in Harare, March 5, 2020.

Politics – At the core of the allegations against Obadiah Moyo was an impression that he wanted to impress the first family. Our politics in Africa is driven by individuals’ ability to impress their bosses. After taking over from Jomo Kenyatta the Late Kenyan President Arap Moi openly declared that he wanted everyone to “sing his song like parrots” highlighting that when his predecessor was president he did the same. Politics centered on individuals makes everyone around them feel compelled to work 24/7 to impress their boss even if it means abusing their own offices which they see as contingent to their ability to impress. Looking at it from cabinet minister’s vantage point there is no better way to impress your boss the president than furthering his/her family’s business interests.

Ambiguous procedures – There is a thin line between failure to follow laid down procedures and outright corruption. Some corrupt activities done at state level are connected to the ambiguity and inconsistencies of policies and procedures. COVID-19 materials procurement for example should by standard be conducted using The Public Procurement and Disposal of Public Assets Act of 2017 (PPDPA), however in an emergency setting the procurement procedures were overrun by emergency measures. The PPDPA Act as read with SI 5 of 2018 and SI 49 of 2020 provide for instances where emergency procurement procedures can be instituted particularly section 33 of the Act on direct procurement but still the regulatory body seems to be failing to interpret the measures and that created loopholes and corruption creeped in.

Lack of oversight – Most corruption is discovered months if not years after occurring, this reduces the capacity of investigators to get enough facts of the allegations right. Oversight institutions such as parliament often do not do regular follow ups on relevant reports, and even if they do they sometime lack the capacity to see abuses as they occur. The known tendency of ministries and government departments of not sending financial reports for audit and to parliament shows lack of adequate oversight on the part of parliament.

Speeding up processes – The COVID-19 example demonstrated that whenever time sensitive processes are to be conducted people end up cutting corners. Businesses who pay bribes in most cases they do so to grease the wheels and ensure that their time sensitive business is carried out on time circumventing regulatory impediments and obstacles. Within a context of kafkaesque regulatory red tapes, corruption works as an enabler of productivity and action.

Middle level corruption is often carried out by civil servants, unsatisfied by their own remunerations they supplement their unsatisfactory salaries with kickbacks from businesses and individuals who may be in need of their service. The clan based mentality at this level also lead to nepotism and favoritism all of which can qualify as abuse of office and corruption.

On taking kickbacks The police, officers from the Vehicles Inspectorate Department and Human Resources Officers across government departments and state owned enterprises are now known to be main culprits in taking kickbacks from firms and individuals. Their desperation because of poor remunerations and now entrenched culture of corruption are the main motivations for corruption on their part. To ensure people are compelled to pay bribes for example they make it extremely difficult to access services that would be free or easy, in turn people feel the need to grease the wheels by paying bribes or buying drinks in a more common language.

Director of Epidemiology and Disease Control in the Ministry of Health and Child Care, Dr Portia Manangazira

Clan based thinking – Using COVID-19 linked corruption allegations, Director of Epidemiology and Disease Control in the Ministry of Health and Child Care, Dr Portia Manangazira, allegedly criminally abused aid funds by hiring 28 relatives as community health workers. Directors, senior management and even players in the private sector tend to cheat laid down procedures and ensure that they enable their clan’s people to be get jobs they may not even qualify for.

Human beings are social animals and they are generally inclined to favor their own however processes and procedures have been put in place to ensure people get jobs on merit. The unemployment problem in Zimbabwe has made this worse. Effects of clan based employment favoritism is that the worst get employed leading to poor effectiveness, efficiency and productivity be it in the government or the private sector.

If high level corruption is “bad” so is low level corruption. Day to day low level corruption amping private citizens significantly disadvantages the poor and vulnerable, those with resources can buy anything at the expense of the poor.

In a country where basic goods and services are often scarce where queues are part of the day, often times the resourced people get whatever they want whenever they want through passing favors to grocery store employees, security guards and premises caretakers. The poor who do not afford to give favours end up failing to access services which they rightfully deserve.

Back to the question: Why do Zimbabweans engage in corruption? The answer is in the weak political structures and political practices, ambiguous procedures especially in procurement, lack of oversight, the need to speed up processes, poverty, egoistic self-interests and now a general tradition of corner cutting and “drink buying”.

Now that we know, how best can we deal with corruption in Zimbabwe? Answer in the comment box below. 🇿🇼

About Author /

[ Development Practitioner • IR Postgraduate Student • African • Queer • Anti-Poverty ]

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