Why are COVID-19 corruption cases crumbling?
By Joel Mandaza
When COVID-19 came, as is the case with many things in Zimbabwe, those with connections tried to profit from the public health emergency.
Many elites saw the relaxing of procurement regulations to expedite responses to the pandemic before the situation degenerated.
The corrupt saw an opportunity.
In June 2020, then Health and Child Care Minister Obadiah Moyo was arrested over charges of awarding a US$60 million tender to an undeserving company.
He was fired by President Emmerson Mnangagwa on July 7, 2020.
Chief Secretary to the Office of the President and Cabinet, Dr Misheck Sibanda the President “removed Dr Obadiah Moyo from the office of Cabinet Minister with immediate effect for conduct inappropriate for a government Minister.”
The conduct in question was corruption involving a US$60 million tender to a company called Drax International, which had inflated consumable prices.
However, when Moyo`s case finally went to trial between April and October 2021, he got an acquittal.
Justice Pisirai Kwenda at the High Court found that the charges which were being enunciated by the prosecution were unclear.
Is it another deliberate bungling by the prosecution, or Dj Biscuit is actually not guilty?
His case is curious in that the executive found him guilty of misconduct in a corrupt deal, but the Judiciary could not charge him.
Was he wrongly dismissed from his ministerial post or did the courts err?
Stealing COVID-19 funds, or resources meant for the fight is immoral and those caught in the act are supposed to be given deterrent sentences as the pandemic continues to be a going concern.
However, like the corruption fight in the new dispensation, arrests are easy, but convictions are hard to come by.
Delish Nguwaya, who was said to be Obadiah Moyo`s co-conspirator at one point, was splurged on national daily papers being framed as a corrupt businessman who wanted to milk the country of its thin COVID-19 war chest.
Media reports gave a feeling that the man`s conviction was a foregone conclusion, but again like Obadiah Moyo he walked as his trial collapsed.
In fact, his trial never took off properly as it was characterised by theatrics from the prosecution and investigating officers.
It has become the script of Zimbabwe`s graft cases, promising at the beginning and shameful towards the end.
If the US$60 million deal was not faulty at law but caused so much damage on the country`s image, shouldn’t there be consequences on the investigating officers from the Zimbabwe Anti-Corruption Commission.
The country directed a lot of resources towards making sense of the whole business transaction, it needs to be established on who sent the authorities on a wild goose chase and to what end?
If the early characters arrested over COVID-19 are not necessarily the criminals, this may mean that the actual culprits are still walking free and may be orchestrating more deals to prejudice Zimbabwe.
Criminals follow patterns, the failure of the justice system in dealing with big criminals has opened floodgates.
At every level, people have been trying to profit from COVID-19 seeing that those accused of stealing millions got off the hook.
Barely a week goes without reports of vaccination cards going missing in the country`s hospitals.
Granted, ministers and tenderprenuers are well connected with some being connected to those running the country, this could explain why they are hard to pin down.
However, it does not explain why our justice system is failing to get convictions on something as simple as stealing and selling vaccination cards from financial institutions.
The lack of decisive action has affected the integrity of the country`s vaccination program, the United Kingdom placed the country on the red-list for months due to its poor COVID-19 controls.
Despite having a good vaccination record, among the best in Africa, citizens were paying for the country`s failure to nip small-time COVID-19 corruption in the bud.
Some citizens have tried to convince the government to reopen the case, but the pleas have fallen on deaf ears.
UK based Robert Chapman has written to the President, asking him to reopen cases on graft and ensure that due diligence was followed in handling them.
Again, the national leadership appears to be ignoring calls from the citizenry, claiming to be focused on ‘infrastructure development.’
They forget that new programs by the government are as good as promises made in the past, on countless occasions President Mnangagwa has read riot acts against graft especially on COVID-19 but his words have not translated to action. If a low hanging fruit like COVID-19 corruption is hard for the state, what else are they failing at?