THE return to active politics of former Public Service minister Prisca Mupfumira, who once said she could not face a corruption trial due to mental illness, has raised questions over whether she will be able to effectively perform her duties as a senator.
It also exposes the government’s insincerity in fighting corruption, analysts have said.
Mupfumira was sworn in as senator this week, four years after being charged for grand corruption involving US$95 million at the state-run National Social Security Authority (Nssa) pension fund.
In 2019, she tried to avoid trial, claiming that she had been suffering from depression and needs time to recover as she has undergone a medical operation.
The prosecution laid out charges ranging from alleged abuse of money to financing Mupfumira’s political campaign and to directing investments of up to US$62 million into a bank against the advice of Nssa’s risk committee.
In April last year, Mupfumira tried to halt the trial by seeking postponement of the case while blaming the magistrate for formulating a case against her. She has, however, made a rebound into active politics as one of the Zanu PF senators from Mashonaland West Province.
Political analyst Rashweat Mukundu said Mupfumira’s political return raises questions on the integrity of Zanu PF, and her ability to carry out official duties.
“What messages is the party sending to the people of Zimbabwe?” Mukundu asked. “What leadership are the people like Mupfumira going to bring to Parliament? What policies and morality does she have if she has to be in Parliament?”
He added: “While it is a sad situation, it also exposes Zanu PF. Its leaders like Mupfumira were declared unfit to stand trial after (allegedly) fleecing the state of millions of United States dollars, and the same people are being brought back as leaders. We have to question whether there is such a deficit of talent in Zanu PF that even the people the court said are mentally unstable are brought back as leaders.
“So, the key agenda of Zanu PF is not to deliver on any agenda. It is essentially to promote and to protect whatever wealth that many of them have ill-gotten from the state, Treasury and people of this country.”
Mukundu said Mupfumira’s return to active politics also shows the government’s insincerity in fighting corruption as she still has criminal charges to answer.
“This is a dash and a rush to the feeding trough and an attempt to protect the feeding trough and also a clear lack of reasoning on the part of the ruling party, that those people who failed to stand trial for their crimes are now rushing back and being elected into policymaking positions. It clearly tells us that Zanu PF has no qualms in associating with criminality and that they have no qualms in protecting whatever they have looted.”
As previously reported by The NewsHawks in June, Zimbabwe’s corruption fight has been further weakened following the National Assembly’s approval of clause 5 of the Criminal Law (Codification and Reform) Amendment Bill, amending the Act, which makes it difficult for the Zimbabwe Anti-Corruption Commission (Zacc) to secure convictions.
Zacc commissioners and other stakeholders believe securing convictions will be made harder, given that the amendment will require prosecutors to prove that a public official had knowledge that his or her conduct was illegal.
For instance, section 174 of the Act read:“(1) If a public officer, in the exercise of his or her functions as such, intentionally; (a) does anything that is contrary to or inconsistent with his or her duty as a public officer; or (b) omits to do anything which it is his or her duty as a public officer to do; for the purpose of showing favour or disfavour to any person, he or she shall be guilty of criminal abuse of duty as a public officer and liable to a fine not exceeding level thirteen or imprisonment for period not exceeding fifteen years or both.
“(2) If it is proved, in any prosecution for criminal abuse of duty as a public officer that a public officer, in breach of his or her duty as such, did or omitted to do anything to the favour or prejudice of any person, it shall be presumed, unless the contrary is proved, that he or she did or omitted to do the thing for the purpose of showing favour or disfavour, as the case may be, to that person.
“(3) For the avoidance of doubt it is declared that the crime of criminal abuse of duty as a public officer is not committed by a public officer who does or omits to do anything in the exercise of his or her functions as such for the purpose of favouring any person on the grounds of race or gender, if the act or omission arises from the implementation by the public officer of any Government policy aimed at the advancement of persons who have been historically disadvantaged by discriminatory laws or practices.”
The section has however been amended by the repeal of sub-section (1) and the substitution of — “(a) if he or she does anything which he or she knows is contrary to or inconsistent with his or her duty as a public officer; or “(b) he or she omits to do anything which he or she knows it is his or her duty to do; with the intention of conferring an undue or illegal benefit on someone else or of unfairly or illegally prejudicing someone else, he or she shall be guilty of criminal abuse of duty as a public officer and liable to a fine not exceeding level thirteen or imprisonment for a period not exceeding fifteen years or both.”
Zacc commissioners say the amendments will make it harder to secure convictions.
However, Veritas, a legal think-tank that provides information on the work of Parliament and the laws of Zimbabwe, believes the move is positive.
“This clause amends section 174(1) of the principal Act. The current framing of the offence of criminal abuse of office as provided for in terms of section 171(1) is very broad in its scope in that it gives room for public officers to be prosecuted for honest mistakes made during the course of their duties. Hence the amendment will limit the crime to include an essential element of knowledge on the part of a public official that his or her conduct was illegal,” Veritas said in a commentary.