THE government’s abrupt withdrawal of a gazetted notice which had controversially decreed official secrecy on public procurement deals in the health sector is a reflection of chaotic governance fuelled by internal political struggles and rampant corruption.
This week, Zimbabweans were stunned by the gazetting of General Notice 635 of 2023 which banned the disclosure of public procurement details in the health sector.
“It is hereby notified that the president has in terms of Section 3 (6) of the Public Procurement and Disposal of Public Assets Act declared that the following be of national interest and shall not be publicly disclosed: “Construction equipment and materials, biomedical and medical equipment, medicines and drugs, vehicles including ambulances, laboratory equipment, chemicals and accessories, hospital protective equipment; and repairs and maintenance service of hospital equipment and machinery,” read the notice.
In less than a day, President Emmerson Mnangagwa was quick to rescind the controversial notice, describing it as fake. In a statement, Chief Secretary to the Office of the President and Cabinet Misheck Sibanda said the purported government notice was fake, adding that investigations into its origins are currently underway.
The notice had sparked public outrage as it had created fertile breeding ground for corruption by placing public procurement in dark corners under the purview of some nameless and faceless individuals.
The publishing and quick withdrawal of the notice shows there is confusion in the government, mainly fuelled by internal power struggles in the regime which has two political factions, one led by President Mnangagwa and the other one by his deputy Constantino Chiwenga, battling to control the levers of state power and resources.
Rashweat Mukundu, a political analyst, says the confusion reflects Zanu PF’s approach to governance.
“I think we have hit rock bottom, and we cannot sink any further. If something is not done quickly to rescue this country from this malady of kleptocracy, then Zimbabwe will likely be a failed state,” Mukundu says.
“For me these are the manifestations of poor governance capacity and skills within the ruling party which unfortunately will continue to cause poverty and suffering among the people of Zimbabwe. “I think what we are witnessing are the manifestations of Zanu PF’s worst approach to governance, even though government has withdrawn, or now says the gazetted policy on procurement was done so illegally without authorisation.
“But, what this matter tells us is the level of disregard from transparency and accountability. The fact that someone in government had the audacity to generate such a policy directive indicates the levels of corruption and disregard for transparency and accountability.”
Crisis in Zimbabwe Coalition (CiZC), a human rights and governance watchdog, says the Zimbabwean government deliberately published the notice and has been insincere in the fight against corruption.
“The citizens of Zimbabwe should congratulate themselves that they were able to stop the barbaric regulation, that barbaric position. We cannot say the government made a mistake — that was not true. They were testing the waters. They thought they would get away with it, but they faced serious resistance from the citizens.
“To those who always say people of Zimbabwe are docile, it is now clear that it is a lie. They did resist, and people were even prepared to go to the courts. And the government was facing serious humiliation, and they had to climb down in the face of serious resistance, where citizens had to fight back oppression,” said Obert Masaraure, the CiCZ spokesperson.
He said the incident also underlines the lack of transparency and accountability which are at the heart of Zimbabwe’s long-running governance and leadership crises.
“The fight against corruption in Zimbabwe is being undermined by the executive. He [Mnangagwa] has managed to undermine state institutions that are supposed to deal with corruption. He has managed to undermine the Zimbabwe Anti-Corruption Commission (Zacc). How? By ensuring that he does not give them enough capacity to deal with corruption.
“Look at the Auditor-General’s report. What has been done so that all the findings of the report are put to use? Nothing! The government does not care. But the AG is publishing damning details of how officials are failing to account for public resources.
“Nothing is being done to them. So, what needs to be done is to have a government that is interested in fighting corruption, but this current government is failing to do that because the senior officials are corrupt themselves. Even the head of state has been implicated in the Gold Mafia scandal, and is yet to make a statement himself! He is a law unto himself. He does not care about reporting to the people,” Masaraure said.
Vivid Gwede, a political analyst, said the publishing and immediate withdrawal of the scandalous procurement notice shows that there is a big problem within the government. “The announcement and revocation of policies in a matter of hours exposes contradictions or confusion within the government.
“The expectation is that when government makes policy pronouncements there would have been serious deliberations about their import and consequences. Thus, at least, there would be coherence in addressing the targeted challenges,” Gwede said.
Zimbabwe’s corruption fight, already in a shambles due to lack of political will, is expected to worsen, with experts warning of turbulence ahead of the 2023 general elections due to public discontent caused by economic failure and corruption.
The country has been a non-mover, with a 23/100 score, falling behind the regional average of 32/100, while ranking 157 out of 180 of the most corrupt countries in the world, according to the Corruption Perception Index (CPI) released in February by the civil society organisation Transparency International.
The index measures perceptions of public sector corruption levels in 180 countries around the world. The global average has remained unchanged for over a decade at just 43/100, while the sub-Saharan region average is pegged at 32/100. More than two thirds of the countries scored below 50, including Zimbabwe, while 26 others fell to their lowest scores yet.
Zimbabwe has the lowest score in the Sadc region, trailing all its neighbours, with Seychelles scoring 70/100, the highest score in the sub-Saharan region, followed by neighbours Botswana with 60/100.
Zimbabwe also falls below South Africa, Mozambique, Zambia and Malawi, among others, scoring 43/100, 26/100, 33/100 and 34/100 respectively.
Thanks to an alert media and the public outrage, the scandalous procurement notice was dead on arrival. Millions of taxpayer dollars have been protected from corrupt political elites and their cronies.