If you are a Zimbabwean citizen or resident and still want to live on, you need super strong shock absorbers because the Mnangagwa administration is capable of crazy things that can easily kill you.
Just last week, we woke up to the news that the so-called second republic had, through General Notice 164B of 2024, exempted some 21 state-owned enterprises from public scrutiny.
You and I — unless we get close enough to some disgruntled individuals who will leak stuff to us — will not be able to know a single thing about how those entities will do their procurement or dispose their assets.
We don’t know what model President Emmerson Mnangagwa and his cohort used to draw up the list of public companies that you won’t be able to take a close look at for a long time, but what’s clear right from the start is that just about all of them have skeletons already tumbling into the corridors.
Talk about the Reserve Bank of Zimbabwe (RBZ), Infrastructure Development Bank of Zimbabwe, Kuvimba Mining House — a commercial Dracula, if you want — AFC Commercial Bank, Fidelity Gold Refinery (Private) Limited, Bindura Nickel Corporation Limited, Freda Rebecca Gold Mine Limited, Great Dyke Investments (Private) Limited and HomeLink (Private) Limited and the Printing and Minting Company of Zimbabwe (Private) Limited, inter alia.
The RBZ is Zimbabwe’s quasi-fiscal bank that, when it’s not making life too hard for depositors through its own matrix of regulations and policies, is busy trading on the black market for the benefit of the ruling elite.
Kuvimba Mining House is that company that Mnangagwa foisted on us without Cabinet and parliamentary approval because he was too anxious to protect the business interests of close colleagues and runners who had just been put on targeted international sanctions for funding a rabid regime.
There was no law or official communication to announce the “birth” of Kuvimba, a personal enterprise trading as a public entity.
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Kuvimba is intricately webbed with the RBZ, Freda Rebecca, Fidelity Gold Refinery etc and that gives you a very complex money haulage syndicate that the guys behind it don’t want us to know a single thing about.
Especially those zealots who are always looking for the slightest reason to place someone or something Zimbabwean on “illegal sanctions”.
So, this becomes one of the most plausible reasons why they came up with the general notice putting the 21 companies under a thick veil of secrecy.
They are so much spooked at the prospect of us and others ever finding out what is happening in those companies. What they are buying. Who they are buying from. How much they are buying with.
And, just in case the residues gives them away, the assets they accumulated from the purchases.
You see, you can derive good conclusions on what X bought and how it did so by looking at what X is disposing. You can know what they ate by just taking a quick trip down to the loo.
The point is, on a scale of one to 10, there will never be a good reason to hide a public entity from the public eye unless you are afraid of something.
Meaning that the Mnangagwa administration has so much to hide and so much to be afraid of by hiding the operations of our very own companies as Zimbabwean citizens.
But, for argument’s sake, let’s say there are cases and circumstances that would justify putting a lid on public procurement and public entity asset disposal. In fact, there are there, if you go to such laws as the Freedom of Information Act.
Information relating to a company, public or private, can be exempted from public scrutiny under certain circumstances.
These included legally privileged information, information likely to prejudice the security, defence and economic prosperity and interests of a nation, highly confidential information that would harm an involved party if disclosed or constitute a reasonable breach of confidence, information that contains reasonable trade secrets and personal information that, under fair considerations, must not be shared with a third party.
The major problem with the list that they have drawn up through General Notice 164B/24 is that it is opportunistically ad hoc.
There is nothing about those entities that gives good evidence that they deserve being exempted from public scrutiny as guided by the above factors.
The RBZ, for example, has operated without being exempted from public scrutiny for donkey decades.
Which means that it can still go on operating in the public glare as it has always done, at least on paper.
What circumstances have changed now to justify the central bank’s exemption? What national security and economic threats would come with us knowing where the RBZ is buying its cars, bond paper, wall paint and ink from?
Because it is seriously unlikely that there will be good answers to these and more questions there, therefore, must be a good reason for deciding to shove the central bank and the other entities under the carpet.
They are spooked at the possibility of us knowing, and they want to use the opacity of the companies to eat more sumptuously.
Anyway, let’s put aside the reasons why they want the said companies to operate opaquely for now, because those reasons look pretty obvious. Let’s turn to the serious implications of doing so.
It is important to point out right from the onset that, once an entity is allowed to operate without transparency and accountability, anything will go.
In this particular context, the entities will be able to buy anything from anyone anyhow. That means the entities can be used to violate our rights with impunity because we won’t be able to hold them to account in any way.
The possibility that the RBZ will be used to buy weapons meant to suppress legal protests in Zimbabwe is not farfetched, as an example.
If it is allowed to do that, it means the RBZ will have been used as a conduit to suppress the constitutional right to peaceful and legal protests.
Talking about the constitution, there is no way in which the Mnangagwa administration will be able to maintain its regime of secrecy regarding the exempted public entities without running foul of the supreme law of the land.
Under Section 62, state and other entities as well as individuals are obligated to release information meant to foster public accountability.
Additionally, they are also obligated to release the information if it is necessary for the furtherance of a citizen or resident’s constitutional rights. In this case, the media and parliament are among those agencies and watchdogs that can and must demand information of public interest.
So far, the Mnangagwa government has done nothing to demonstrate beyond reasonable doubt that the 21 entities that have been listed under General Notice 164B must be exempted from the obligations under Section 62.
There is nothing currently available to convince us that the media and parliament cannot hold the companies and government to account on anything.
But then, the constitution supersedes government general notices, statutory instruments, statutes and, well, even presidential powers since presidential powers must also operate within the confines of the constitution.
It, therefore, goes without saying that the general notice that exempts those 21 companies can be challenged at the constitutional and other courts, depending on context.
We are then likely to see a flurry of court-related activities as civil society and other concerned parties challenge the general notice, particularly on the basis of public accountability and the observance of people’s constitutional rights.
Needless to say, the general notice sets yet another bad precedent for the regime.
Recently, Mnangagwa gave us a shocker when he changed the Sovereign Wealth Fund into Mutapa Investment Fund, at the same time wresting a full 13 laws from the respective ministries and placing them straight under his own control.
Numerous companies, some of them re-appearing in the latest general notice, came under his direct control, meaning that they could no longer be administered under the Public Procurement and Disposal of Public Assets Act.
That gave the impression, for a good reason, that the Mnangagwa administration was bent on looting money from public enterprises.
It’s getting worse now with last week’s notice.
The lootocracy is growing up very fast. Corruption grows in converse proportion to accountability and transparency.
The less the accountability and transparency, the more the chances and reality of corruption.
And you also get super worried about our reputation as a country.
A country whose government does everything available to hide things invariably gets a bad name. And that’s not being open for business, is it?
*Tawanda Majoni writes in his personal capacity and can be contacted on email@example.com