Finance minister Patrick Chinamasa has been hauled to the coals for dismissing corruption allegations being levelled against Home Affairs minister Obert Mpofu without giving the politician the opportunity to clear his name.
Responding to questions in the National Assembly last week, Chinamasa said the accusations were unfounded, saying Mpofu accumulated much of his wealth before joining government.
“We are very comfortable to see a rich white person, but when we see a rich black man, we conclude that he is a thief. This is not a fair comment,” he said.
The Finance minister said although he holds no brief for Mpofu, the allegations lacked merit and were unsubstantiated.
He counselled legislators that some people had sweated for their wealth from loans and debts from financial institutions.
This was after Mabvuku-Tafara legislator James Maridadi and Norton legislator Temba Mliswa queried Mpofu’s wealth.
Reacting to Chinamasa’s utterances, legislator Jessie Majome said the Finance minister committed a serious breach of protocol by rushing to the defence of his colleague.
“To even shamelessly use a personal anecdote shows just how unconscious he is of his duty as a minister to act in the public interest. In his haste to defend his buddy from legitimate legislative querying, he quite forgot that he is undermining confidence in his own efforts to build confidence in the economy,” said Majome.
“Good governance would have required him to respond with care and professional detachment to allow due process to commence,” she added.
The legislator said Chinamasa might as well have unwittingly let the cat out of the bag about the new government’s intention apply the law selectively.
Currently, there is a perception that the corruption dragnet has only been targeting politicians aligned to the vanquished Generation 40 (G40) faction, including those who were sympathetic to it.
Political analyst Vivid Gwede said if Chinamasa wants to be Mpofu’s lawyer, he can do it in a proper court of law once the Zimbabwe Anti-Corruption Commission (Zacc) has been given the opportunity to conduct its investigations.
He said concerns coming from the legislators have provided a test case to the current administration’s fight against corruption to prove that its efforts are not factional, but proper pursuit of justice without using prosecution merely for persecution of political opponents.
“It wouldn’t be proper for government officials to work like a cartel and defending each other like that. It is in both Mpofu’s interest, the (Emmerson) Mnangagwa government’s interest and the national interest for him to clear himself,” said Gwede, who added that it should be within the Finance minister’s vision to see an end to economic crimes.
Analyst Settlement Chikwinya said by defending Mpofu, Chinamasa is actually defending a principle and the principle being that the Executive cannot take orders from parliamentarians on who to arrest, otherwise the whole Cabinet, including Mnangagwa, may end up having supper at 4pm at Chikurubi.
“So Chinamasa is not only defending Mpofu. He is defending the entire Zanu-PF elite branch,” said Chikwinya.
Social commentator Rejoice Ngwenya said what is frightening is not so much defending Mpofu, but to actually say in public that by the time he met him in the 1980s, Mpofu was already wealthy.
“Mpofu was a staffer of Customs department for several years. Is it when Chinamasa claims Mpofu made his wealth? Did he follow up Mpofu’s entrepreneurial line from Customs, Zimbabwe Grain Bags, Monarch up to his ministerial occupation?
“It is not his duty to defend him unless if he is his lawyer. Mpofu, like anyone, is innocent until proven guilty. However, like everyone whose name has been mentioned, it would be great to hear what the courts say,” said Ngwenya.
Human rights lawyer Dewa Mavhinga said Chinamasa’s actions were surprising, inappropriate, and embarrassing.
“How could Chinamasa stand up to defend Mpofu’s wealth? How would he know if Mpofu is corrupt or not? That is for competent authorities to decide without undue influence from Chinamasa. What we know is that there are individuals, including Lovemore Kurotwi, who have publicly accused Mpofu of corruption, and those accusations are for the courts to decide following investigations by the police.
“The challenge is that, as of now, it appears the fight against corruption is very partisan and one-sided with some being protected while small fish fry,” said Dewa.
MDC spokesperson Obert Gutu said it was very improper and inappropriate for Chinamasa to defend Mpofu’s wealth in the august House.
He said Chinamasa must allow a situation whereby Mpofu is afforded the opportunity to explain why and how he became so fabulously rich.
Gutu said the relevant portfolio committee of Parliament can actually summon Mpofu to appear before it and answer questions if they are any reasonable grounds to suspect that his wealth was acquired through irregular or corrupt means.
“Chinamasa is not Mpofu’s spokesperson and as such he should simply allow the relevant administrative and legislative processes to run their course,” said Gutu.
Political analyst Maxwell Saungweme said Chinamasa’s defence of Mpofu was so wrong as he should allow Zacc to do its work.
“He is not qualified either at law or by training or position on government to determine that someone’s wealth is not ill-gotten.
“This proves that the administration’s anti-corruption drive is a factional political manoeuvre aimed at eradicating not endemic corruption but G40. You don’t address endemic corruption by selective prosecutions. They have already failed in dealing with corruption,” said Saungweme.
Crisis Coalition spokesperson Tabani Moyo said government should make it a legal requirement that whoever assumes public office should declare his or her wealth as part of curbing corruption and promoting transparency.
According to Moyo, corruption is one of the cancerous factors that have haemorrhaged the country’s economy.
“If government is serious about tackling this vice therefore, it must institute a lifestyle audit, that’s the easiest way of ensuring that public officials account to how they amassed wealth!
As we go for the elections, if this government has broken with the past, these are easy low-hanging fruits that they can pick as a show of transformation to the peoples of Zimbabwe and all her stakeholders,” said Moyo.
Social analyst Rashweat Mukundu is of the opinion that the issue of corruption is multi-faceted and needs a comprehensive strategy rather than be about individuals.
He agreed with Chinamasa that the allegations against Mpofu must be sound and proven and that Members of Parliament should be focusing on strengthening the anti-
corruption mechanisms rather than creating media shows.
“Without denying or appearing to defend anyone, those raising corruption allegations against individuals must ensure that such cases have evidence. And if the anti-corruption mechanisms are weak and ineffective that the corrupt are getting away with crimes, the expectation is that MPs put that on the legislative agenda and ensure that the anti-corruption systems are sound and independent,” said Mukundu.
“He is fearful that name-calling may not lead to long-term anti-corruption success but rather polarise society; especially political leaders along political lines and the issues at hand are not tackled.
“The dangers of name-calling are that anti-corruption becomes personal and is bound to be biased and unsuccessful as we are seeing with what Zacc is doing, essentially arresting everyone associated with the G40.
“I would rather have MP Maridadi discuss the effectiveness of current anti-corruption systems. Chinamasa will therefore defend Mpofu on political lines and if the matter remains political then Zimbabwe loses,” said Mukundu.
He added that corruption is a crime and must be depoliticised and independent institutions put in place to investigate such allegations.
Political analyst MacDonald Lewanika said Chinamasa can and will defend whoever he wants.
“Part of the challenge is where the accusations are made. If the accusations are in beer halls and bottle stores they will be subject to beer hall talk, if they are made as part of political grandstanding they will be met with gallery talk.
“If people have issues with Mpofu’s wealth and have knowledge of his corrupt activities let the allegations be made and documented with the police and Zacc, who are tasked with criminal and corrupt investigative responsibilities.
“That way we can question why the police are not acting or why their minister is blocking investigations into his criminal activities, or make a case for factional targeting at Zacc.
“Making allegations in the street will just create gossip, and making accusations at political platforms will be met with politicking,” said Lewanika.