As the Zimbabwe Anti-Corruption Commission, we do not need prosecutorial powers

31 Mar, 2024 - 00:03 0 Views
As the Zimbabwe Anti-Corruption Commission, we do not need prosecutorial powers Mr Reza

The Sunday Mail

MR MICHAEL REZA was recently appointed chairperson of the Zimbabwe Anti-Corruption Commission, whose mandate is to lead the fight against graft. The Sunday Mail’s NYORE MADZIANIKE spoke to Mr Reza on his vision and strategy going forward.

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Q: Congratulations on your appointment. The new cap comes with its own set of challenges and responsibilities. Kindly share with us your vision for the anti-graft body.

A: My vision is one of a corruption-free Zimbabwe; a Zimbabwe where both foreigners and locals are assured that when they come to do business, there are no extra charges “or small tokens of appreciation”; a Zimbabwe where everybody is aware that, should they engage in corruption, there is an organisation called ( Zimbabwe Anti Corruption Commission) ZACC that will hunt them down, and there will be consequences.

I have a vision of a ZACC that performs itself out of a job; one that is so efficient that people are very scared of doing corruption . . .

This will leave ZACC with no job to do.

Q: Cases of corruption are reportedly on the increase despite efforts by ZACC. Are you coming in with new strategies to combat the vice?

A: It is true that cases of corruption are on the rise.

I do not think it is necessarily a case of more people getting involved in corruption.

I believe it is the stance taken by the Second Republic to be tough on corruption and strengthening agencies that deal with the vice.

Additionally, the President of Zimbabwe, His Excellency, Cde Emmerson Dambudzo Mnangagwa, has declared that there will be no sacred cows in the fight against corruption.

Agencies such as ZACC have been adequately funded to the extent that some corruption cases that would probably have gone unnoticed are being unearthed.

By necessary implication, the number of corruption cases goes up.

Because the President has declared that no one is immune from investigation, those persons who may have been safe before will find themselves with nowhere to hide.

Q: While ZACC operations are spread across the country, there remains a general perception that most of its operations remain centralised in Harare. What are you going to do to make sure ZACC operations are equally visible across the country?

A: I believe that perception is not entirely correct.

On the face of it, it appears to be correct but, factually, it is not.

As I speak, there are now teams headed by managers in the Karoi area, investigating the abuse of agricultural inputs.

I spoke with one of the managers recently and I was advised that they had accounted for several such persons, some of whom have appeared in the Karoi court.

That operation is ongoing.

In Manicaland, the provincial head there advised me that they had also accounted for a senior parastatal head for criminal abuse of office and a significant number of cases involving theft of Presidential inputs.

So, very clearly, there is activity in the provinces, but it is not being reported.

By contrast, in the capital, virtually all arrests are reported in the press and on social media.

On initial appearance in court, these cases are reported with photos of the accused persons. This, therefore, creates the impression that all corruption cases are in the capital only.

Q: There have been complaints from the public about alleged “half-baked” investigations, which at times result in prosecutors taking incomplete dockets to court. What plans do you have to make sure complete records are taken to court for ease of prosecuting such matters?

A: As you correctly stated, over the past few years, some ZACC dockets were not up to standard.

It was a learning curve.

Over time, there has been a significant improvement in the quality of dockets that are submitted to the NPA (National Prosecuting Authority) for prosecution.

I have advised senior staff that with immediate effect, there will be no dockets that will go to court without having been thoroughly scrutinised by the executive secretary and myself.

The advantage we have at ZACC now is that the executive secretary is a former magistrate, and I am a former prosecutor.

We both know what is needed to secure a conviction by a court and we will not pass a docket that has not met that standard.

Q: Some quarters have criticised ZACC for what they term a “catch-and-release” scenario, where accused persons are released by the courts before accounting for their alleged wrong deeds. How do you plan to change that perception?

A: This is a term that has been used and abused by people against ZACC.

To begin with, it is not ZACC that is responsible for releasing people who would have appeared in court.

That is the responsibility of the court.

Section 50 (1)(d) of the Constitution of Zimbabwe says anyone who is arrested must be released unconditionally or on reasonable condition. So, even when the court releases an accused person, it is simply complying with a constitutional order.

This means, whenever a person is arrested and appears in court for the first time, the starting point is that he or she is entitled to be released on bail unless “there are compelling reasons justifying their continued detention”.

The prosecutor and the investigating officer must prove to the court the existence of “compelling” reasons to deny him bail.

To answer your question, that perception will continue until the public accepts that in our law, an accused person is considered innocent until proven guilty by a court.

And before that finding, he is entitled to be freed on bail.

Q: There have also been reports in the media about corrupt ZACC officers. How are you going to deal with issues of corruption amongst your officials?

A: Allegations of corruption have been made against employees in all sectors, and ZACC is not immune to those allegations.

His Excellency (President Mnangagwa) has publicly stated that there will be zero tolerance to corruption in Zimbabwe.

I fully associate myself with His Excellency’s position and can tell you now that all allegations of corruption against ZACC officials will be thoroughly investigated and if found to be true, the culprits will be prosecuted.

We are the watchdogs against corruption.

If we engage in it ourselves, what message are we sending to society?

If gold rusts, what will iron do?

Q: There have also been concerns about alleged incompetence amongst some investigating officers. How do you plan to facilitate staff development?

A: No organisation worth the ground it stands on can survive in today’s world unless its officials continually improve themselves academically.

Corruption is a white-collar crime.

The criminals are getting smarter and are hiding their money very well.

Unless we, as ZACC, also improve ourselves and move with the times, we will be left so far behind that the fight against corruption will be a lost cause.

I am going to seek funding from development partners so that at every opportunity, our officials get appropriate training.

Q: You have vast experience in prosecution spanning nearly two decades. How much do you think your expertise would go towards improving the conviction rate in corruption matters?

A: As I indicated in answer to one of your questions above, a case is only won if all the elements of a crime are canvassed.

If there is even one element that has not been proved, the accused person is entitled to an acquittal.

My experience is going to count in that I have told myself that I will go through the dockets, satisfying myself that there are witnesses and/or documents that speak to every element of the crime that the person has been accused of.

Q: The organisation has also been accused of focusing on investigating the so-called “small fish” and leaving out the “big offenders”, who sometimes openly flaunt their wealth. How do you intend to correct such perceptions?

A: My organisation is called the Zimbabwe Anti-Corruption Commission.

It does not differentiate the corruption between major and minor.

Corruption is like a pregnancy; a woman is either pregnant or is not pregnant.

There is no such thing as being “a little bit pregnant”.

But I hear you.

We must be going for the big timers, like the ones who openly flash suspected ill-gotten money.  The problem I have is, by your admission, the monies are “suspected” to be ill-gotten. There is no evidence that the money is ill-gotten. In Zimbabwe, no law criminalises a person displaying huge amounts of cash.

The perception that the money is ill-gotten may come from several reasons. However, unless we, as ZACC, have fool-proof evidence that the cash is ill-gotten, we cannot touch him or her.

Q: How do you plan to improve your organisation’s relationship with other law-enforcement agencies and other stakeholders?

A: Our relationship with other law-enforcement agencies is currently very good.

We intend to keep it that way.

We will keep in our lane and the other agencies will keep in theirs. We are not in competition with other agencies; we complement each other.

Previously, a suggestion was made whether we, as ZACC, should be given prosecutorial powers. My position is no; we don’t need that.

The NPA is the prosecuting authority; let it do it.

The ZRP (Zimbabwe Republic Police) is mandated by the Constitution to investigate other crimes, and we are only confined to corruption and theft. We will do only what the Constitution allows us to do.

Q: What is your message to the people of Zimbabwe as you commence your new journey?

A: I am truly indebted to His Excellency, the President, for appointing me to this position.

I will lead by example and from the front.

I have inherited a team of commissioners who are determined to succeed in the fight against corruption.

I have at my service an able executive secretary, who, for good measure, was recognised recently as the best secretary.

His Excellency has told me that I have free rein to investigate all cases of corruption, irrespective of who the suspect is.

What this means is, if any cases of corruption are not being investigated, do not blame the President, leave him alone.

Blame me. He has given ZACC the resources and the authority to investigate corruption.

For me, with what has been given to me by the President, it is easier to win the fight against corruption than to lose it.

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