Zimbabwe: The “Impossible” Quest for Institutional Reforms
The military complex and the police are the main guarantors of the regime in Zimbabwe. Of course, nothing much can be changed without confronting the military for a shift in its approach to politics, which basically requires the military complex to step aside from the political domain.
Achieving political-party-neutrality from the military complex will be a remarkable feat. It is as remarkable as it is impossible.
People are allowed to dream. Let’s just dream that for some reason the military has changed its disposition. What’s next? The big five institutions that need fundamental changes are as follows:
The Big Five
- The President
- The Parliament
- The Cabinet
- Reserve Bank Governor
- Supreme Court and High Court Judges
The need for change at these positions and institutions is well-known and well-documented. What is not well-known and well-document are the institutional reforms needed on the layers beneath the Big Five.
There is a danger that the country can obtain reforms on the Big Five without making a dent on other institutions that need reforms.
We need more than just piecemeal reforms:
- we need a reset event
- we need a system overhaul
- we need a reconfiguration
- we need something more than a restart; we need to uninstall the operating system and install a new one
- we need an Extinction Event of the Old System and a Creation Event of a New System
The system is too broken. All of its constituent parts are broken and disintegrated. Rebuilding the institutions and dosing them with capacity is not going to be as easy as most people think.
The trickle-down change from top to bottom might not work. Delays of transmitting change from one institution to another will drag the whole reform agenda such that true reforms might never be accomplished. For example, if there are no electoral reforms, and Justice reforms, elections might not ensure the will of the people is respected. The wrong guy gets to be the president.
Let's say, there are electoral reforms and the correct guy (the elected one, the people’s choice) gets to be the president, there are risks that he might appoint a cabinet that does not carry out reforms. What do we do? We wait for the next election cycle.
Let's say the right president appoints a cabinet that is determined to carry out reforms. That cabinet needs to change things in their respective ministries, some of the changes need Parliamentary approval, thus the parliament as well needs to have sanity and desire for institutional reforms, otherwise, it won't work.
Armed with changes in the Acts of Parliament, ministers can set out to reform the ministries. The minister’s vision has to be carried out by permanent secretaries. This is a broken part of the system. Perm-Secs are not elected officials, they are appointed. Getting rid of the current regime of Perm-secs will not be easy.
The entire system relies on a reformist zeitgeist that is passed from the People to the President and Parliament, from the President to the Cabinet, from the Cabinet to Perm-Secs and CEOs of parastatals and Head of Departments, from that layer down through every layer to the cleaner. This might require a cooperate (tow-the-line) or leave approach for all the elements in the chain to deviate from sabotaging the reforms.
How do you get rid of a system that fundamentally rewards criminals and sociopaths?
The succeeding part of this article aims at unraveling the difficulties involved in the quest for institutional reforms on five key institutions in Zimbabwe. The purpose is to illustrate that it might not be enough to simply change the Executive(President and his ministers), the Legislature (Members of Parliament), and the Judiciary, and then hope that those three arms of government will exert changes that will trickle-down to the next layer of institutions. The focus is on how broken the systems are, the prevalence of enablers, and most importantly the system’s ability to corrupt the “change-agent”.
These are as follows:
- Deeds Office
Zimbabwe Electoral Commission (ZEC).
Reforming ZEC is the cornerstone of ballot democracy. This is why the MDC is pushing for electoral reforms. Without electoral reforms, there is no guarantee that the country will have free and fair elections. Here is the tricky part, ZEC reforms are needed in order to vote out the Zanu PF junta government headed by Emmerson Mnangagwa. ZEC reforms begin with appointing untainted and impartial commissioners. ZEC commissioners are appointed by the President, who happens to be Emmerson Mnangagwa. Too much power rests in one person.
The President-ZEC-Elections-President circularity makes it difficult to get this foundational institutional reform done correctly.
The graphic above illustrates the circularity. The sitting President appoints ZEC Commissioners. ZEC Commissioners administer the Elections that determine who becomes the next President. Its a democratic joke.
Of course, legally speaking, the President makes appointments in consultation with the Judicial Services Commission, (which is another institution that can be easily captured).
The most needed reform is to break the circularity for the sake of future generations. Breaking the circularity will strengthen ZEC, as an institution such that it will not be easily captured by a sitting President. Doing so might require effecting changes on the Constitution of the Republic. This is something that cannot be easily done.
Forcing a change by removing a sitting President through any means other than an election (rigged or not rigged) will be deviating from constitutionalism and rule of law. A change that is not rooted in constitutionalism and rule of law does not usually result in the type of institutional reforms needed by Zimbabwe. Many at times, it only results in swapping one group of abusers of state power for another.
Zimbabwe Revenue Authority (ZIMRA)
This institution is rife with corruption. It is the primary tool for collecting taxes from the economy and distributing them to the central government. Leakages are prevalent in the institution because the taxation laws are ridiculous. They incentivize disobedience from the taxpayers.
The nation needs to have a candid discussion on what to do with ZIMRA. What sort of reforms are needed there and how best can they be attained?
There are four seriously damaged aspects of ZIMRA that desperately need to be fixed:
- The position of the Commissioner-General (CG)
- The main Port of Entry — Beitbridge
- Secondary Port of Entry — Robert Mugabe International Airport
- The Head Office — Kurima House
The position and powers of the Commissioner-General need to be revisited. The language of the law places power and responsibility in a person, a position, an office. This needs to change. No one man should have all that power. The CG should not be the demi-god of tax collections. Peak Gershom Pasi was a mini-deity during his tenure as CG. It ought not to be so.
Most of the powers that the CG has should be invested in the ZIMRA Board, and also distributed among regional managers by design (law), not by delegation from the CG.
Distributing power would strengthen the institution. Better still, instead of a CG, we could have a Leading Council that administers the day-to-day affairs of the tax collector. Term limits are needed. The idea is to protect the institution from a rogue CG.
Beitbridge port of entry needs an overhaul. The state is losing billions in revenue due to bribery syndicates. Of course, the underlying problem is sky-high duties. If duties were reasonable, they would be a lower incentive to cheat.
That being said, what is concerning is the corruption culture prevalent at Beitbridge. The place is so rotten that institutional reforms that start from the top and meant to trickle-down might not actually trickle-down. This is an example of where a broken system can swallow the change-agent.
There are very high chances that a righteous CG, a righteous Regional Manager, and morally upright Supervisors can get swallowed into the Beitbridge bribery syndicates. The chances of getting swallowed into the corrupt system are higher than the chances of changing the system.
The culture is exactly what needs to be fixed. How do we fix it? Do we fire everyone at Beitbridge Port of Entry and hire new people? The job/location rotations done at ZIMRA have shown us that new revenue officers are not the panacea as long as they are from the Zimbabwean societal fabric.
The bulk of ZIMRA employees and their relatives, and society at large, drool and salivate at the opportunity of being deployed at Beitbridge as a revenue officer. It is viewed as a time to eat.
There is joy, celebration, and ululation when a ZIMRA officer is assigned to Beitbridge. It is indeed a broken system.
The system might be beyond repair.
The optimistic side of the mind thinks that it can be fixed by:
- taking a tough stance on corruption from the top (from CG trickling down)
- improving the systems — making use of CCTVs, monitoring every action by revenue officers, frequently auditing the AYSCUDA online system, cross-validating the on-the-ground offline systems with the online system, cross-checking files, documents, etc. so as to identify and catch perpetrators early
- achieving a higher conviction rate at the courts
- stiffer penalties for taking bribes (in China they have a death penalty)
The pessimistic side of the mind reminds the optimistic side that:
- all these systems, processes, audits, arrests, adjudications, etc. have to be managed and implemented by people
- people can be corrupted too, the people are waiting for their turn to eat
- there are not enough people willing to sacrifice to make a better nation. It is difficult to forego potential personal gains for the benefit of all.
The points raised for Beitbridge apply for the Airport and Kurima House.
Central Intelligence Officer’s (CIOs)
If and when the country becomes free, what do we do with the CIOs? Do we disband them?
What happens if we disband them? Do we risk creating cold criminals from them since we will have unemployed trigger-happy gun-trotters in the streets?
Do we prosecute them for the sins committed under the current regime?
Do we use them as a force for good? For example, championing the anti-corruption agenda.
The CIOs, using the immense power they have, have been unofficially policing the police. What happens if no one is policing the police?
If we keep them, how do we ensure our people are free and not terrorized by this institution?
How do we handle this institution? It has been prone to abuse from a sitting president. Because of secrecy, it can easily be used as an instrument of cruelty.
The current crop of CIOs has gone rogue. It has been reduced to the level of political party militias carrying out all sorts of oddities against civilians. There is nothing Central and nothing Intelligent about them. They are more decentralized than ever. They do not gather intelligence, they are nowhere close to the FBI or CIA, they simply pry on citizens. It is a captured institution that is at war with civilians. How do we reverse this?
The CIO was formed in 1960 on the instructions of then Prime Minister Winston Field. Robert Mugabe’s government inherited the institution as a colonial relic. Mugabe captured the institution, personalized it, and sculptured it into his own image, thus it evolved into a terrorist organization, feared across the land and beyond.
The CIO institution is not capable of being reformed. It is lost. Totally. There is no recovery. A mindset shift is not possible. The groupies and unemployed ghetto youths turned into CIOs have spent the last decade being fed a poisonous doctrine of a warped and myopic version of nationalism. For the past decade, their Most Wanted list is full of journalists, lawyers, human rights activists, bloggers, videographers, opposition politicians, doctors, student union leaders, teachers’ union leaders, and pastors. Read the last sentence again. Readability improves if we type it as list:
Over the past decade, The CIOs Most Wanted list was populated with:
- Human Rights Activists
- Opposition Party Politicians
- Student Union Representatives
- Teachers Union Leaders
Most Zimbabweans would call for total disbandment of this institution. I do not disagree with this call. I think it is the right call.
The lingering question after disbandment is, how do we deal with the ex-CIOs and how do we ensure such an institution never arises again?
The above are delusional rhetorical questions of a future time when freedom has been won. The realistic and practical question is how do we handle the CIO now?
How do we disentangle it from the Entanglement it is in? How do we, the people of Zimbabwe, rescue the captured institution from the capture to prepare it for its final burial?
The CIOs are aware that Zimbabweans would like the unit to be totally disbanded which means unemployment and loss of power for them. They will always choose to fight in the corner of the benevolent capture.
Mission Impossible! Mission Impossible 2!Mission Impossible III.
Commercial Bank of Zimbabwe (CBZ)
This is a surprise to many. To the uninitiated, it feels like CBZ should not be part of this list. We have mentioned the Reserve Bank of Zimbabwe on the Big Five. It is only right to mention CBZ in the next five.
The CBZ question speaks to the integrity of the financial system, it is a question of how we go about cleaning up the banking system?
Serious institutional reforms are needed in the banking sector. Changing the central bank governor alone is not enough. Cleaning the monetary system means reforming commercial banks and CBZ is the biggest of them all.
There is a symbiotic relationship between RBZ and CBZ.
- CBZ is the primary buyer of Treasury Bills.
- CBZ as the biggest bank has the largest ability to create money through the fractional reserve banking system. That ability needs to be parameterized so that it's not rigged in favor of a few kleptocrats.
- CBZ holds the Treasury Account, that account needs to be distributed fairly across banks to strengthen the banking system. CBZ’s monopoly on public finances needs to be broken down.
- CBZ is the primary originator of Non-Performing Loans (NPLs) from irresponsible lending to Politically Exposed Persons (PEPs). These loans to politicians are rarely paid back. Some are disposed to ZAMCO and some are perpetually rolled over when they mature.
- CBZ CEO’s end up as RBZ governors, it doesn’t necessarily have to be so
The major reform needed from the Commercial Banks, notably the Commercial Bank of Zimbabwe is to have measures in place that protect the institutions from being captured by ruling politicians. When captured, money creation benefits only a few and at times money creation quickly goes out of control.
The hardships imposed on the generality of the populace from CBZ’s lending practices are humungous. The burden is borne by every Zimbabwean including poor villagers. If we had a barometer to measure the social and economic impact, we could easily observe that CBZ as an institution is more dangerous than the CIOs.
Money is the lifeblood of any organization. Rogue regimes and autocratic governments feed on the public purse. Irregular expenditures, illicit transfers, direct theft, transactions that involve misappropriation of funds, bribery transactions, fraud, embezzlement of public funds, externalization of foreign currency, and money laundering, all pass through commercial banks. Strong commercial banks will quickly pick up these transactions and have the power to stop them from going through. Strengthening commercial banks in Zimbabwe is a type of an institutional reform that cannot be easily comprehended by many people from villagers to journalists. The ones that understand how financial systems work should awaken the ones that don’t. Each one should reach one and teach one.
Unlike the CIO or Beitbridge port of entry, CBZ is an institution that is not rotten to the core. The core is made up of professionals who are not corrupt, God-fearing people who loath silly lending practices. Fixing CBZ is not as hard as other institutional reforms. It is a low hanging fruit, yet it has a very good yield for the country in terms of cleaning the monetary mess.
The institution just needs to be detached from the enablers and fortified in a manner that prevents it from being captured by politicians again. The umbilical cord with RBZ needs to be cut.
Deeds Registry Office
There are millions of property owners that do not have title deeds. There are too many stories of two or more people holding title deeds for the same piece of land.
There is a total disrespect of what holding title means, people with title deeds can be evicted from their land. Land barons are feasting on desperate citizens.
The chaotic Land Reform Program was a false reform. The politicians who engineered it for their own benefit crafted the distributions as leases, 99-year leases. A lease is not ownership, it is closer to renting than ownership regardless of the length of the tenure. Ownership has no expiry date. Ownership has an irrevocable title deed whilst leasing is just a contract. That is why the leases are not bankable. The chaotic reform was all for nothing. A perfect example of a “reform” that is not really a reform.
In any case, the false reform actually destroyed the entire notion of property ownership in Zimbabwe as it set a precedent that someone else can come to lay a claim on the property that you claim to hold. The chaos migrated from agricultural farms to urban stands and houses.
Property ownership is in a mess. It needs to be fixed.
How do we reform this?
Fixing it will require more than just changes at the deeds office. The Deeds Office is at a complex intersection of dysfunctional property ownership laws.
We have listed the Big Five and covered The Next Five. The entire system is broken and needs to be fixed. Reforms are needed at many institutions. We can list another five. Let’s call them:
The Other Five
- Passport Office
- National Social Security Authority (NSSA)
- Vehicle Inspectorate Department (VID)
- Zimbabwe Electricity Supply Authority (ZESA)
- Zimbabwe National Roads Administration (ZINARA)
The quest for Institutional Reforms in Zimbabwe is an uphill task. It’s not going to be easy. When people demand change, they are essentially asking for institutional reforms.
The 15 institutions mentioned above did not include the following:
- military (soldiers)
- healthcare (doctors and nurses),
- education (teachers)
- and law enforcement (police)
The purpose of this article was to highlight the difficulties involved in the journey and assessing the chances of failure. It is not meant to discourage those who pursue change for the better.
You can think of it as a mechanic telling you that 3 out of 4 cylinders of your car’s engine are misfiring, the computer box is damaged and needs to be replaced, the body is rusty and needs minting, the injector is worn, the tires have wires, the fuel tank is leaking, the timing belt is broken and the head gasket is blown, among other issues. It is up to you to decide to buy a new car or to fix your Skoroskoro.
I hope I have confirmed that the patient we are trying to resuscitate is dead. Be of good cheer, Zimbabweans. Nothing is Impossible, believe! In the Bible, they say Lazarus was raised from the dead.
It can be done, once there is a Critical Mass of Zimbabweans that reject the Babylon system imposed on them. I will cover the critical mass concept some other day.