Corporate sleaze and polarisation…dimensions of the economic challenge

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By Dr Tafataona Mahoso

PRESIDENT Emmerson Dambudzo Mnangagwa’s published list of persons and companies who externalised funds has ‘killed several birds with one stone,’ to use an English clichē.
l It has exposed the prevalence of a culture of sleaze within the corporate sector;
l It has exposed the role of the private sector in polarising the press on key national issues;
l It has exposed the absence of any serious investigative journalism in Zimbabwe, especially when it comes to economic and financial matters; and
l It has exposed embarrassing gaps in Constitutional Amendment Number 20 of 2013, that is the Constitution of Zimbabwe.
These points cannot all be explained in one instalment.
So readers will have to be patient.
To begin with, let me cite newspaper headlines that greeted publication of the list on Monday, March 19 2013:
l ‘We’re all in this together as a nation’, The Herald, March 21 2018;
l ‘Name, shame’ violates law’, Daily News, March 21 2018;
l ‘Big talk hurts an expectant nation’, Daily News, March 21 2018;
l ‘ED’s forex list fiasco’, Financial Gazette, March 22 2018;
l ‘The problem with gesture politics’, Financial Gazette, March 22 2018;
l ‘Companies dismiss externalization claims’, Zimbabwe Independent, March 23 2018; and
l ‘Externalisation saga: Badly Executed Plan’, Zimbabwe Independent, March 23 2018
While it may not be obvious from just glancing at the headlines, a reading of just the intros to these stories will reveal a sharp polarisation of the media between Zimbabwe Newspapers and the Zimbabwe Broadcasting Corporation supporting the President’s publication of the list, on one hand, and the private press generally condemning the President’s publication of the list on behalf of the private sector, on the other hand.
A summary of the excuses used by private sector spokespersons and private media editors siding with the corporate sector is quite revealing, as follows:
l That, based on their own perceptions and expectations about corruption in Zimbabwe, this list was not what the private sector expected or wanted.
l That the list contained some errors, therefore it was worthless and it should not have been published;
l That shaming companies discouraged investment because the very same companies were needed to partner the foreign investors whom Government is trying to attract;
l That those exposed by the list should have been consulted before publication;
l That since the data was obtained mainly from banks, the list violated rules of confidentiality between banks and clients;
l That some of the funds which appear to have ben externalised were only delayed because CDI forms on exports were not cleared o time; and
l That the laws of Zimbabwe were so bad, at the time of the externalisation of funds, that the actions of the named companies and individuals had to be justified.
There is a tight relationship between the headlines formulated by private press editors and the flimsy excuses offered by the corporate sector which the same editors tried to justify.
They revealed many dimensions of the economic challenge facing Zimbabwe and they are contradictory in themselves.
The main contradiction for the corporate dependent press is that this press is supposed to be the main driver of investigative reporting and as such, it should have told us about the sleaze in the private sector long before the President did and it should have given its readers and listeners the accurate data which people can use to determine if indeed there are gross inaccuracies in the list published by Government.
The main omission by both the corporate sector and the press is failure to tell readers that everyone was given three months to regularise accounts and bring back the funds in question.
In his book called Power, Crime and Mystification, Steven Box had this to say about the role of the press in corporate crime:
“Corporate crime is rendered invisible by its complex and sophisticated planning and execution, by non-existent or weak law enforcement and prosecution, and by lenient legal and social sanctions which fail to reaffirm or reinforce collective (majority) sentiments on moral boundaries.
In addition, the type of media to which the majority of people expose themselves under-reports corporate crime.”
The mystification which Box wrote about is rampant in corporate PR and in the private press.
It has affected the political class to such an extent that too many politicians and NGOs supporting them assume that ‘good governance’ should not include governance of the industrial sector.
Chapter Two of the Constitution (on National Objectives) contains 27 Sections. Section 9 (on Good Governance) reads as follows:
l The State must adopt and implement policies and legislation to develop efficiency, competence, accountability, transparency, personal integrity and financial probity in all institutions and agencies of government at every level and in every public institution, and in particular-
l appointments to public offices must be made primarily on the basis of merit;
l measures must be taken to expose, combat and eradicate all forms of corruption and abuse of power by those holding political and public offices.
This provision is clearly inadequate and biased. It purports to clean up the public sector while leaving the corporate sector to bribe and corrupt public officials as well as the press.
From the point of view of the majority and the national interest, there is absolutely no good reason the values outlined in Section 9 of the Constitution should not apply with the same force to the corporate sector.
Yet, the values enshrined in the Constitution need to embrace the entire society and the organisation and governance of the economy
In The Post-Corporate World: Life After Capitalism, David Korten tried to define the all-embracing values which this Section 9 of our Constitution missed:
“There is no more powerful expression of a society’s values than its economic institutions. In our case (in the US), we have created an economy that values money over all else, embraces inequality (and dispossession) as if it were a virtue, and is ruthlessly destructive of life. The tragedy is that for most of us the values of global capitalism are not our values. It is hardly surprising, therefore, that we find ourselves in psychological and social distress. We have fallen captive to stories that deny us meaning and institutions that demand we behave in ways at odds with our deepest psychological and spiritual predispositions as well as our stories.”
Indeed, based on corporate responses to the externalisation list, it becomes obvious why the public has been subjected to insane price-hikes since September 2017 and why the treatment of the consumer by members of the Confederation of Zimbabwe Industries (CZI), the Zimbabwe National Chamber of Commerce (ZNCC) and the Retailers Association (RAZ) continues to deteriorate.

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