The Media Are Allowing This Government’s Cronyism And Dishonesty To Flourish
30 May 2021
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By Taruberekera Masara | How does Emmerson Mnangagwa get away with it? How does he lie and cheat and break the rules with apparent impunity? Plenty of theories are aired in the media: his alleged charisma, the weakness of the opposition, the success of the vaccine programme, his unwavering commitment to clamp down corruption. But the most likely explanation isn’t Mnangagwa character or circumstances. It’s the one staring back from the mirror. For most of his career, he has been protected by the news organisations that should have held him to account.

Surely the media are doing a great job. First the Chamisa story and now ED’s dirty business have been plastered all over the front pages. The recent scandals show that journalism in the Zimbabwe is the lively scourge of dishonesty and corruption. Really?

Information about the government’s lobbying outrages has been coming out for almost a year. The way the government issued contracts for PPE and other vital goods and services during the first wave of the pandemic is – or should have been – a much bigger scandal Chamisa in-house defections, Mnangagwa the refurbishment of his newly acquired USD18 million helicopter, the Nehanda statue. While qualified suppliers were desperately trying to sell their wares, the government ignored them and established a “VIP lane” for its chums.

Millions were spent on unadvertised, untendered contracts. In some cases – for instance, the PPE supply company owned by people close to No 1 – the recipients had special relationships with ministers and officials.

Nobody died as a result of Chamisa’s political woes. But health and other frontline workers died because vital protective equipment was either missing or inadequate. The procurement fiasco was likely to have been partly to blame.

There was a range of problems. The first hint that something odd was happening with the government’s procurement processes emerged in May 2020, with journalists Hopewell Chin’ono and Mduduzi Mathuthu picking up a scandal involving face mask that were charged US$28 from US$4 sourced by bizarre means from Namibia.It was picked up briefly, then the media moved on. Ed recovered from the scandal that up to now has no closure. Interpol exposed strange fiscal made by the government to a Hungarian company. In June campaign group led by citizens and political actors rose to pitch a demonstration citing the collapse of the health delivery situation in the country owing to supply chain corruption for PPE. Genuine as it was it was completely ignored and protest leaders got arrested.

State procurement and tendering has shown he world shocking and astonishing links where friends of ministers and civil servants and other well-connected people, including party donors, were operating through special channels. Companies with apparently no prior experience secured contracts for vital equipment. In some cases, the equipment either turned out to be useless or wasn’t delivered at all. Yet even when this gets exposed the media largely disengage and hunt for less explosive issues just to avoid taking the state to cleaners.

Far from making procurement faster and more efficient, as the government now claims, this system caused total chaos and catastrophic decisions. The opposition and other progressive non state actors complained about “drowning in VIP requests” to favour companies that were unable to meet the necessary standards. In the case of Wicknell Chivhayo the media reluctantly failed to expose bigwigs behind him and those that guaranteed him immunity in the face of failing the Treasury. Again and again the President has failed to look straight into the ugly eyes of corruption and say enough is enough yet the media can’t spur him to act decisively on it.

Corruption stories are covered sporadically by several newspapers. Only individual journalists do brilliant work. If you closely look at it none of the media, with the exception of Mathuthu and Chin’ono, give corruption issues the intense and unwavering coverage it deserved: in my view corruption by the political elites should hit the headlines day after day.

Why known corruption scandals not all over the front pages boggles the mind.The state media a supposedly voice of the common man take sides with power elite against people. They mute real stories and some sink without trace.

This is part of what I see as a pattern of failure. As the former Herald editor Tichaona Zindonga remarked, “ Herald journalists are absolutely terrified of the government and are bending over backwards to appease it”.

He pointed out that it scarcely mentioned the latest revelations about Mnangagwa’s relationship with Valdano Brown. Only two stories on its website published about the issue this year, both of which were mild, dull and remarkably late. The state media instead of checking on the abuses by the government they went on to give Mnangagwa a higher rating on his score card. Not because it is worse than most other outlets, but because it should be better. Funded by us, with vast reach and resources, it should be the leading investigator of government malfeasance.

Vigilance? Diligence? Initiative? For most of the past year, most of the media have been fast asleep.