Building vibrant and tolerant democracies
Zimbabwe has signed both the United Nations Convention Against Corruption (UNCAC) and African Union Convention on Preventing and Combating Corruption and Related Offences (AU anti-corruption convention) but - as a result of an inadequate anti-corruption legal framework and a culture of corruption - efforts to deal with corruption achieve nothing. In 2011, Zimbabwe ranked 154 out of 182 countries in terms of its level of corruption.
The police force in Zimbabwe has been found to be the most corrupt institution in the country, a point which was recently cemented by a Transparency International-Zimbabwe study. If corruption is to be fought in Zimbabwe it must start with the police - since they are both the major culprits and the ones expected to root out corruption. Consequently, measures should be put in place to deal with corruption within the police force and I propose asset declaration as a starting point.
The declaration of assets by the police is a means through which officers are required to disclose their income, wealth and liabilities. They are also obliged to make full, regular and public disclosures of their assets. This would enhance accountability and transparency in the force and also enhance the integrity of the entire public sector. However, the requirement needs to be supported by legal and institutional means - and substantial political will. Zimbabwe should abide by the AU anti-corruption convention, which makes it mandatory for its signatories to require declaration of assets by designated public officials.
The fact is that many police officers in Zimbabwe have acquired riches way beyond what their salaries could possibly offer. It is well known that police in Zimbabwe take bribes from citizens to enrich themselves. To counter this, police officers should declare their assets when they come into office, while in office and when leaving office or when being promoted and this ought to apply to officers of all ranks in the country.
In a study by Transparency International in 2006, countries that had asset declaration laws by public officials for a longer time enjoyed lower levels of corruption than other countries. The study also found out that perceived levels of corruption were lower in countries whose declaration laws permitted prosecution of offending officials. Given this, the Zimbabwean government should emulate the Indian authorities that recently directed police officers in India to declare their assets and those of their family members to curb corruption within the police service.
In Ghana, there is the Public Office Holders (Declaration of Assets and Disqualification) Act that functions as a tool to prevent corruption. Similar legislation also exists in countries such as South Africa and Botswana. As an example, South Africa has implemented conflict of interest codes requiring disclosure of financial interests by public officials. Elected officials and senior managers in the civil service and their spouses, publicly disclose all their financial interests. These include shares and interests in companies, land and property owned, paid outside employment, directorships and partnerships.
The situation in Zimbabwe’s police force necessitates that top officials like Commissioner General Augustine Chihuri disclose their financial interests in terms of shares, land and property to avoid conflict of interest. For that reason, a legal framework to mandate the police and other public office holders should be formulated and implemented. It should be understood that a credible asset disclosure initiative must clearly establish a number of important elements of the process. This is because while asset declaration laws can be important in stemming abuses of power and the looting of public resources, their impact can be hampered by shortcomings in the regulatory framework - similar to the shortcomings that have hamstrung Zimbabwe’s anti-corruption laws and institutions.
Flaws in the legislation that undermine the effectiveness of asset disclosure include a lack of clarity about what assets, liabilities and interests public officials are to disclose, the absence of a legal requirement for the verification of asset declarations, the lack of effective prohibitions and clarity over the prosecution of offences, and the lack of public access to officials’ asset declarations. These must all be carefully considered.
Three years have passed since the formation of the Inclusive Government in Zimbabwe but there is still no clear framework to fight corruption, even though tackling corruption is fundamental to a successful transitional phase - and to future economic growth and development. It is time the politicians stopped turning a blind eye to police corruption. And they could start by making every officer declare all their assets.
Darlington Gama is the Youth Coordinator at Bulawayo Progressive Residents Association. He writes in his personal capacity.