Greed Corruption and Transparency

Sometimes living in Zimbabwe is like living in a mental asylum where the inmates are in charge. Just yesterday we learned that the Chief Executive of a local medical aid society (PMAS) has been paying himself US$200 000 a month. In all the top 8 executives in this cash strapped, highly indebted institution, that is months behind in paying the medical profession that serves its members, over US$1 million a month in basic salaries. This implies that their total packages may be worth significantly more than this.

This news was accompanied by a story that the Board of the PMAS was going to “slash” his salary to US$60 000 a month – in itself an outrageous amount for a small organisation that cannot pay its way. In fact just recently we discovered that the State Broadcasting Corporation was paying its CEO a package of US$40 000 a month and that sparked outrage across the country as the ZBC had not paid its staff for months. I am told that this state of affairs prevails across the Board in Government institutions and parastatals.

We are a very poor country with a GDP of about US$16 billion – that’s about $100 a month for the average person. Here we have one individual paying himself 2000 times that as a basic wage! How do the guys at the bottom on less than $30 a month (over half the population) think about that? I know there is an outcry about the salaries and bonuses of Executives of banks in Europe – but they are dealing with organisations that employ hundreds of thousands and turnover billions on a daily basis. They also carry risk and must bear responsibility for decisions that affect whole countries – not some upgraded administrator in a tiny organisation that is in the service sector and is simply collecting fees and paying for medical services.

But this is the tip of the iceberg, just drive around the wealthy suburbs of Harare and you would think you were in Hollywood – not some low income, Fourth World State where half the population is close to starvation. Where are our socialists in all this, who is working for a more equitable world? The answer is very few. Africa, the poorest continent in the world, has created many billionaires – most of them live in a murky world of clandestine deals and trades. Oprah Winfrey may well be challenged for the top spot as the wealthiest woman in the world by the daughter of the President of Angola although her wealth and status is unlikely to see the light of day anytime soon.

Then there is the scourge of corruption in Africa. There is corruption everywhere but no other continent has been infected by this particular disease on such a scale and in proportion to its wealth and production. Transparency International estimates that corrupt transfers out of Africa far exceed the total value of all foreign aid to the continent (AID is about US$40 billion a year). Others estimate that the leadership of Angola misappropriates a third of gross oil receipts. In a recent scam in Nigeria one company was responsible for the theft of $6,9 billion in oil revenues. Even on a global basis these are staggering sums of money.

In Zimbabwe, prior to the formation of the National Government in 2009, the majority Party and its acolytes were stealing US$1,6 billion year from the State in all its many forms and was stripping the agricultural industry in a State sponsored looting spree of many billions dollars worth of assets accumulated over the previous 100 years by dint of hard work and enterprise by thousands of ordinary people and businessmen. Then when the criminal elite in our midst discovered alluvial diamonds in the Marange area, the system went into overdrive. In a feeding frenzy that would rival a flock of vultures anywhere, they descended on this particular carcass and in 6 years stripped it of an estimated $12 billion in raw diamonds that flooded the world market.

Despite all the rhetoric about transparency and accountability and all the evidence of the Zimbabwean presence in the world market (experts say we supply 30 per cent of global demand in a market worth $20 billion a year), not one cent was paid to the Exchequer in 2013 and the Minister has not provided for a dime to be received in 2014. Private jets fly into the air base in Harare or land at the sophisticated facilities in Marange, they do not clear Zimbabwe customs or emigration and they refuse to allow our Tax Authorities access. How can such a situation persist in any sane country? There is no doubt in my mind, Zimbabwe is a nuthouse.

The truth is that no country can develop if it indulges in such practices. Yet what can its people do to bring these crazy practices under greater control and limit the drain on our hard won economic output? Democracy is supposed to curb these gross violations of a countries wealth. But to be frank, democracy in most African countries is a joke. Hard men and women are in charge and they keep the general population is a state of serfdom. Like European feudal Lords of earlier centuries, they live like Kings in palaces and flaunt their wealth and power, robbing the very poor of their surplus and livelihood.

We need a revolution.

They know how to play the game and they treat the major nations of the world with studied distain. North Korea knows that the west, China and the South will feed their people on a humanitarian basis while they concentrate their own resources on weapons and the military and on a life style that they hide with great success behind the motes that surround their homes. African States work on the need for stability and offer this in place of real democracy and the rule of law. When their real interests are challenged, they move swiftly to defend their “sovereignty” and independence. The welfare of their countries and their people seldom factor in their deliberations or plans.

So we have the General Assembly of the United Nations giving the man who slaughtered hundreds of thousands Ugandans, Idi Amin, a standing ovation when he walked into the hall. Similar slavish recognition is given to tyrants on many other occasions. Seldom do we see such tyrants arrested at the airport and brought to justice. Even then the justice metered out is a mockery of real due process – just take the current Court Case in the Hague for the men who engineered the murder of a leader in Lebanon – US$387 million and ten years of legal process, still no live bodies and a Court room full of Judges and lawyers on US$500 a day per diems, plus expenses. If they had live bodies, they would be accommodated in cells that resemble a five star hotel room with all amenities while their victims lie in unmarked graves in distant lands or their economic victims starve in a refugee camp or shack dwellings in an overcrowded slum.

One solution is greater transparency and here we must applaud the local media for publishing these obscene salaries in the daily press. They should now move on other subjects of a similar nature. Of a Reserve bank Governor who owed the banks he supervised tens of millions of dollars and used his powers to punish banks that attempted to collect from him. Of new farmers who not only occupy farms they acquired illegally but compounded this with millions of dollars of equipment supplied to them by the Reserve Bank or the Ministry of Agriculture. Of Ministries who have been hiding over expenditure by buying on credit from the private sector and then refusing to acknowledge the debt or simply ignoring the liabilities.

What about a Minister of Mines (now Transport) who suddenly becomes (overnight) the largest road haulage contractor in Zimbabwe, the owner of a bank, the publisher of a daily newspaper, the owner of many buildings and lodges and hotels as well as farms and massive cattle holdings, all on a salary of $2500 a month. What about a Minister of Local Government who suddenly owns hundreds of properties in many towns and cities, plus expensive cars and homes. What about the diamond moguls who own luxury properties in foreign cities, buy airbus jets and others and who own significant and expensive real estate in South Africa. What about the hundreds of people who fly to Dubai on short “shopping” trips like you or I would catch a mini bus to a local supermarket.

Greed and Corruption make a very nasty brew, one that can only thrive and grow in the dark. We need light in these dark places and must remember that light always defeats darkness. When we discover what is being done to us, we then need a democratic revolution to sweep away the debris and bring in a new generation that will restore sanity to our public affairs.

Eddie Cross
Bulawayo, 24th January 2014