By Mthulisi Mathuthu
SW Radio Africa
14 February 2014
Civil society groups this week registered their ‘sternest disapproval’ of the breakdown of public accountability and called on the government to urgently set up a commission of enquiry into corporate corruption.
The call was made Thursday by 66 civil society groups, through a joint statement. The commission should investigate ‘obscene salaries’ and other underhand dealings in the local government and public sector, the statement said.
The civil society groups also called on President Robert Mugabe to break his silence on corruption, in which his aides and close allies have been named. The statement, issued after what has been dubbed the biggest civil society gathering to discuss graft, called on Mugabe to deal with corrupt government officials.
Government was also called upon to replace corrupt officials with those whose profiles ‘reflect good corporate governance, professionalism and integrity.’
The statement also called on government to allow Parliament and the anti-corruption commission to ‘perform their role without hindrance.’ Those who participated at the Thursday meeting said public anger was apparent. Speakers expressed disquiet at government attempts to prevent action against corruption.
The call came as government is targeting only peripheral figures. So far only members of the suspended Air Zimbabwe board have been nabbed for corruption while Mugabe’s close allies, who include his spokesman George Charamba, have remained free.
Charamba has been named in the looting of the Premier Service Medical Aid Society where he was paid $100,000 last year for sitting on the board. His membership on that board is said to have been against a government policy on corporate governance, which prohibits permanent secretaries from boards of public entities.
But the government is also steadfastly determined to block free expression against corruption. Ahead of this week’s gathering the police refused civil society groups permission to march against corruption. Then on Thursday WOZA women activists were assaulted as they left Parliament after handing in a petition. On the same day, MPs who were geared-up to discuss graft, were told at the last minute to go home, because the toilets were faulty. Opposition MPs said they saw this as a flimsy excuse to prevent debate on corruption.
ZimRights director, Okay Machisa, said the fact that the police were blocking marches instead of arresting corrupt individuals was an indicator that the government was not serious about tackling graft. Machisa said: Government has so far failed to deal with corruption. There is absolutely no political will and so we need action as civil society and the police must allow us to express ourselves.’
The veteran human rights campaigner warned the public to be wary of ‘political games.’ He said the government is trying to hoodwink people into thinking that it was acting on corruption, when the real culprits remain untouched.