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Zimbabwe’s twin evils: Covid-19 and corruption

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The NewsHawks Managing Editor Dumisani Muleya

TRANSPARENCY International, the global corruption watchdog, this week released its 2020 Corruption Perception Index (CPI), showing Zimbabwe is now ranked 157 out of 179 countries.

The 2020 report says persistent corruption is undermining healthcare systems and contributing to democratic backsliding in different countries amid the Covid-19 pandemic.

Countries that perform well on the index and invest more in healthcare are better able to provide universal health coverage and are less likely to violate democratic norms and institutions or the rule of law.

“Covid-19 is not just a health and economic crisis. It is a corruption crisis. And one that we are currently failing to manage,” Delia Ferreira Rubio, Transparency International chair, said.

“The past year has tested governments like no other in memory, and those with higher levels of corruption have been less able to meet the challenge. But even those at the top of the CPI must urgently address their role in perpetuating corruption at home and abroad.”

Zimbabwe is not just currently reeling from Covid-19 — with over 1000 fatalities, it is also battling corruption on a new front. Politically connected people, government officials and their cronies are trying hard to capitalise on the pandemic to make money.

As they say, in every crisis there is always an opportunity for some.

The US$60 million Draxgate scandal involving President Emmerson Mnangagwa’s family and the US$5.6 million deal in which deputy Health minister John Mangwiro is implicated quickly come to mind.

There are many other dodgy deals on Covid-19 procurements and supplies.

Corruption and emergencies feed off each other, creating a vicious cycle of mismanagement and deeper crisis.

The large sums of money required to deal with emergencies like Covid-19, the need for urgency in disbursing aid or economic stimulus packages as well as the risk of undue influence over policy responses form a perfect storm for corruption.

They create a breeding ground for it to mushroom, while weakening mechanisms in place to prevent it.
This, in turn, undermines fair, efficient and equitable responses to crises.

The handling of the Covid-19 pandemic around the world perfectly illustrates the need for integrity in the management of crises. Covid-19 corruption is as rife in Zimbabwe as elsewhere around the world.

The CPI looks at how corruption undermines states’ capacity to respond to emergencies such as the dual health and economic crises brought about by the Covi-19 pandemic.
The analysis highlights that:
·      Corruption diverts funds from essential services such as healthcare, leaving countries such as Zimbabwe vulnerable and under-prepared to deal with public health crises;
·      A lack of transparency in the allocation of resources — a practice positively associated with corruption — weakens the efficiency of crisis responses;
·      Countries that perform poorly in controlling corruption tend to breach human rights and democratic norms in their management of the Covid-19 pandemic.

The report suggests that in an increasingly uncertain world, where emergencies abound, fighting corruption is key to ensuring better preparedness for crises responses.

There are many strategies that governments can rely on to prevent corruption in the face of a crisis, but keeping corruption under control is much more difficult where robust anti-corruption mechanisms are not already in place.

In such cases, corruption is likely to cripple the effectiveness of emergency responses.

Zimbabwe has laws, institutions and structures to combat corruption, but there is lack of political will. There is also selective application of the law and trampling on the rule of law.

Where corruption is systematic like in Zimbabwe, public and donor funds are often diverted from essential public services such as healthcare or education.

Covid-19 has reminded us of the consequences of corruption on public service delivery and the harmful impact on people’s lives.

A recent study from Transparency International’s Health Initiative brought together worldwide evidence of corruption at the point of service delivery during the pandemic, highlighting how it led to lower accessibility and quality of healthcare services.

This has been particularly harmful to poor countries and vulnerable societies like Zimbabwe.
On both fronts — corruption and Covid-19 — Mnangagwa’s government has failed, hence Zimbabwe’s twin evils are currently holding sway amid rising infections and deaths.

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