HARARE – The ongoing trial of former Finance minister Ignatius Chombo on corruption and fraud charges is likely to open a can of worms as it continues to suck in more and more people every week.
Chombo was arrested recently following the seizure of government by the army, which claimed to be targeting criminal elements surrounding former president Robert Mugabe under a programme code-named Operation Restore Legacy.
With Mugabe’s successor, Emmerson Mnangagwa, targeting corrupt individuals and issuing a three-month moratorium to those who externalised money and bought assets in foreign lands to return the loot — the country’s prisons could soon be filled by ex-top government officials and businessmen, who have been involved in shady deals.
So far at least two more people linked to the Chombo case have been hauled before the courts, with high chances that more will appear.
Besides being a former Finance minister, Chombo has previously held other portfolios, which include being the Home Affairs and Local Government minister.
It is not so much of Chombo’s alleged errors of omission or commission that is at stake here.
A number of crimes were swept under the carpet during Mugabe’s era and these are likely to be resurrected.
Zimbabwe is ranked among the most corrupt countries in the world and this is partly because the corruption dragnet in Zimbabwe operates like a spider web which catches only small insects.
According to the 2015 Corruption Perception Index by Transparency International, the country was ranked 150 out of 168 States.
The corruption watchdog said Zimbabwe was failing to deal with corruption, which has infiltrated several public and private institutions.
Following the arrest of Chombo, several citizens went on social media saying more individuals might finally have their day in court if Mnangagwa and his administration are serious about fighting the scourge.
“This is just (an) example. There are reports and reports done by Harare councillors on how he bought land for a song…The arrest of Chombo will implicate so many people, that’s why I think he will walk,” a Twitter user by the name Asante Sana, said.
Another user by the name Muzukuru WaTangwena said: “Most Zanu PFs used their positions in government as a way for personal gain and political mileage, with complete impunity. The Judiciary should never sleep until they’re all behind bars. Partial justice is a form of injustice. It wasn’t Chipanga& Chombo only #Mnangagwa #Zimbabwe.”
“…He (Chombo) should have his day in court. All criminals, across the political divide, should have their day in court,” MDC spokesperson Obert Gutu said on Twitter.
Norton Constituency member of Parliament Temba Mliswa said; “The prosecution of Chombo is a good start for the President — impartial courts and non-selective application of the law. No big name is too big for the Constitution.”
With the Chombo saga raging on, indications are that he was not the only one who was allegedly acting contrary to the law.
At one point former vice president Phelekezela Mphoko facilitated the release of Zimbabwe National Roads Administration (Zinara) boss, Moses Juma from a police station under unclear circumstances.
Mphoko reportedly went personally to Avondale Police Station to facilitate the release of Juma and another Zinara official, Davison Norupiri.
The actions of those in power rendered even statutory bodies such as the Zimbabwe Anti-Corruption Commission (Zacc) useless, as its efforts to deal with corruption were often frustrated through executive power or otherwise.
Criminal cases before the courts were dealt with at Zanu PF rallies.
Former Higher and Tertiary Education minister Jonathan Moyo, who was seen as one of the kingpins of the Generation 40 faction in Zanu PF, which enjoyed the support of former First Lady Grace Mugabe, was exonerated at a rally despite the court process still ongoing.
This came after investigations carried out by Zacc linked Moyo to allegations of siphoning over $450 000 from the Zimbabwe Manpower Development Fund (Zimdef).
Corruption in Zimbabwe has become endemic and despite public outcry, no minister was ever arrested, as the police only targeted the “small fish”.
The failure by government to take stern measures against its corrupt elements started breeding corruption within other government circles that would later spread to private institutions. The corruption scourge was no longer confined to the ruling party, as even Parliamentarians joined in, lining their pockets with funds meant to benefit the general public.
Government has over the years been providing $50 000 funds to MPs under a programme called Constituency Development Fund (CDF), which was to cater for developmental projects in various communities in the country.
In 2012, government identified 20 extreme cases where MPs abused CDF money.
About four legislators were arrested on allegations of abusing the fund, but their prosecution was stopped after the then Prosecutor-General Johannes Tomana, raised concern that there was no proper legal framework to successfully prosecute them.
These lootings have echoes of a similar State-backed scheme — the Farm Mechanisation programme, which was abused by bigwigs who ended up not paying a single cent for the equipment they received, forcing the Reserve Bank of Zimbabwe to recover the money through a controversial debt-assumption law.
Zimbabwe’s history is littered with a myriad of stories of looting from the State by Zanu PF and senior government officials.
Some of the scandals include the illegal resale of cars purchased under a government VIP scheme which became known as the Willowgate Scandal, after it was abused by ministers and the War Victims Compensation Fund in which money meant for freedom fighters was fraudulently siphoned through inflated claims by Cabinet ministers or senior officials.
This alone shows that the arrest of Chombo is just a drop in the ocean of other bigger scandals that have been swept under the carpet during the Mugabe era.
Some of the notable corruption cases since 1987 include the 2001 — Harare Airport Scandal, 1995 — GMB Grain Scandal, 1998 — Boka Banking Scandal and the 1999 — Noczim Scandal.