MUTARE – SCANT police investigations, clumsy prosecutions, and a lack of specialised judicial officers are all combining to expose the country’s lack of capacity to deal with pervasive but sophisticated white-collar criminal rings.
Failure to secure graft convictions – despite numerous high-profile corruption arrests – have led to public sentiment suspecting graft against the entire legal chain, that is, from law enforcers to prosecutors and presiding officers.
Prosecutor general Kumbirai Hodzi recently expressed frustration at fighting the vice, alleging that some rich and powerful elements had control over nearly all aspects of the country’s major public institutions.
Legal expert and former ZimRights chairperson Passmore Nyakureba opined that although graft was pervasive and could not be ruled out in some of the cases, the entire legal system was ill-equipped to comprehensively handle the sophisticated criminal ring.
“Looking at the success and failure in general, you will realise that the investigation of matters in Zimbabwe in general is backward.
“We don’t have much investigative skills that are employed by the police investigating matters.
“Cases that fall through at the courts; most of them are as a result of bad investigations by the police. In most cases, they would be done hurriedly. When they go to prosecution, the vetting process sometimes just takes matters,” Nyakureba said.
He said there appeared to be a thrust that “every case that is taken to the police is taken and every case that is brought to court must be prosecuted as a soft position at policy level.
“Those are some of the things that contribute to the failure of the prosecution of corruption cases.”
Nyakureba said the entire legal system was a mess when it came to containing graft.
“We have police that are not adequately trained for the investigation of such complicated and sophisticated area of crime; then we also have prosecutors that have not received training adequately, including presiding officers that have also not received adequate training,” he said.
Nyakureba said presiding officers needed specialised training in handling corruption matters and not only inhouse workshops for a legal area with such sophistry.
“We have been told that there are now specialised courts, but how much training do those specialised courts have?
“Are they presided over by magistrates who have received extensive training or they have just done workshops to deal with corruption cases?
“I think these should, as a starting point, spent a year in training on how to preside over corruption matters. We would prefer something that is either regional or international,” he said.
Nyakureba also said the absence of sufficient case laws from higher courts to guide lower courts compounded matters.
“The problem with the prosecution of corruption cases is that these are specialised areas of the law and in addition, it’s not an area where there has not been a lot of development in terms of case law authority that should guide lower courts – Magistrates’ Courts – in terms of how to proceed in a certain matter,” Nyakureba said.
Efforts to get a comment from the Judicial Service Commission were fruitless as its public relations manager, Rumbidzai Takawira, failed to pick up her phone or respond to texted questions.
Public prosecutors spoken to on condition of anonymity concurred with Nyakureba’s accession that scant police investigations were leaving yawning loopholes that made it difficult to secure investigations, with magistrates equally gleaned for comments off the record arguing that unless they were given sufficient facts, they could not return guilty verdicts.
Police national spokesperson Assistant Commissioner Paul Nyathi maintained that police had the capacity and were doing their work according to set guidelines and standards.
“We have a specialised department, the Police Anti-Corruption Unit, which executes its mandate professionally and according to the set guidelines and in consultation with the anti-corruption commission and national prosecuting authority,” Nyathi said.
This is a narrative that some prosecutors have been contesting, noting that in some of the cases there was no sufficient consultations between the Prosecutor General’s office and local police investigation units.
Where linkages occur, there has been the added risk of the outcome being compromised as some of the officers would alert individuals who would be under investigation, another prosecutor noted.
“While in some cases there is room for improved consultations to ensure that cases are fool-proofed before going for prosecution, I know of a number of cases that ended up in the dump because there were too many people involved, some of whom had personal links to the persons whose affairs were being investigated,” a prosecutor said.
Anti-graft lobby group Transparency International Zimbabwe (TIZ) legal official Tracy Mutowekuziva said the public needed comprehensive education on how to identify, resist and combat corruption in the face of the challenges its prosecution is experiencing.
She said with women being the worst affected by corruption, there was need to also be sensitive to its gendered nature.
“As much as we are celebrating women and teaching them about their constitutional rights, those rights won’t be fully enjoyed if there is corruption.
“Women are the forefront victims of corruption, hence there is a need to teach them to identify, resist report and reject corruption sufficiently,” she said.