The fight against corruption is indeed a cardinal one for any society. Corruption at any level and by any other name is undeniably corrosive. It is the trademark of any retrogressive society. Every sane person knows it. That is why every leader, even those who seem to benefit from it, condemn it by day, even as they condone it by night. In 2015 then President Mugabe pronounced “zero tolerance to the scourge of corruption” even as Zimbabwe continued its descent on the global corruption scale. Today, similar declarations abound.
How do we tell the difference? How do we tell the real fight from the adulterated; reality from fake? Though the tune and the dance seem different from those of yesteryear, can the man in the street know for certain that now is the era of belling the cat? What’s the benchmark? After all, the picture for ages has been something like this:
Namely, the arrest of some political figure followed by a less dramatic acquittal, typically after a long time of an on-and-off-and-on-again appearance at this and that Court. This has had the regrettable result of the public having to question the bona fides of the allegations.
In practical terms, what is the fight against corruption? What does it entail? Talking about the establishment of special Corruption Courts, Justice, Legal and Parliamentary Affairs Minister Ziyambi Ziyambi said the courts would have no sacred cows. “We are going down to the roots of corruption,” he said. “No stone will be left unturned; even the so-called big fish who sometimes get away with corruption will be pursued. Further, these courts will ensure all corruption cases are dealt with expeditiously. There will be a united effort (my emphasis) among the NPA, JSC, Attorney-General’s Office, Zimbabwe Anti-Corruption Commission and police; and crack teams will be assembled where necessary.” (The Herald. 5 February 2018)
Needless to say, the fight against corruption is both proactive (preventative) and reactive. While the former is quiet and more effective, the latter is noisy, complex and costly. In the same Herald article, Zimbabwe Law Society president Mr Misheck Hogwe said that “It should be understood that corruption is one of the most complex crimes and needs a systematic approach” Indeed it should.
I did ask what the benchmark was. Let us have my take on that. To me it is the implementation of the last in the minister’s above sentences: a bona fide united front in this fashion:
While public debates of allegations, arrests, prosecutions and outcomes make all sorts of headlines and get official attention as well as funding, investigations only whimper in the background. Yet it goes without saying that successful outcomes are a result of resourceful investigations and astute prosecutorial work. On the same token, the allegation from which all this chain of events arises has to be well-founded. Let us look at each of these events in turn.
What is the test criterion of a well-founded allegation? The long and short answer to this is that it should be free of malice. Whether the allegation is raised out of mere suspicion of wrongdoing, it should be well-founded, sound, logical and substantiated. This places the onus of evaluating a suspicion on the person raising the allegation. Many unsubstantiated allegations of corruption have found their way into the justice system, to the detriment of the integrity of the system.
An investigation is an exercise to establish the truth. An investigation cannot create a case out of no case. Perpetrators of fraud and corruption will go to great length to conceal their crimes. It is the responsibility of the investigation to establish, not only the what, where, when, how and the who, but also ascertain the evidence thereof. Corruption is indeed a complex crime and it calls for an equally multifaceted investigative approach. This calls for directing attention to what is good and useful for uncovering the evidence and ignoring the rest.
The term “public-private partnership” has become quite popular in our political discourse. In this country, however, the practice has yet to find traction in the field of criminal investigations. In many countries the practice is a matter of cause. Modern fraud investigations will encompass a wide range of disciplines, including computer forensics, data/digital/ financial analytics, social mapping and so on. Experts in these investigative disciplines may not be found in the public sector. Many, if not most, are in private organisations and universities. Public-private partnership is therefore critical for successful outcomes.
In public discourse, prosecution is most often taken to be the low hanging fruit. It is where the most heat and noise come from. When the outcome is an acquittal it is the prosecution which often gets the rap. But, from what we have looked at above, the slap may not always be justified. When the case is politically sensitive talk of “persecution by prosecution” ensues. Just like an investigator, a prosecutor cannot create a case out of no case. Besides going to great length to conceal their crimes, perpetrators of fraud and corruption often create war chests to hire the best legal teams to defend them should they be caught. Public-private partnership in prosecution is therefore equally important for successful outcomes. Many “expert witnesses” may not be in the public sector.
An independent judiciary is of cause the icing on the cake. All players in the preceding stages are going to play their roles in good faith when they know that there is going to be a free and fair trial at the end of it all.
Finally, we have to keep in mind that the fight against fraud and corruption is an all embracing campaign, not merely uncoordinated battles. It should encompass both proactive and reactive measures. While the reactive actions of allegation, investigation, prosecution and trial generate heat and sound, the real test of a corrupt free society is in the proactive arena. How does society view corruption? Is a corrupt person ostracized reminiscent of a child molester? If not, why and what should be done? There may not be any easy answers. But one thing is certain: Corruption should be made to be abhorred through socialization and education.
Forensic Audit Consultant
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