Infamous by design: A new report on illicit finance in Zimbabwe

October 17, 2022
Participants in the Pact-supported Civic Engagement for Accountability and Democracy in Zimbabwe project Women's Leadership Program. Credit: Pact

Why has fighting corruption been in the global limelight recently? It’s clearer than ever that corruption poses significant risks to citizens, as the Covid-19 pandemic laid the link between livelihoods and transparent public spending bare. Public outrage over corruption has also been a driving force behind people-powered movements in places such as Sri Lanka, Brazil and more. Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, and the global scramble to undercut Russian kleptocracy, has also crystallized the seriousness corruption poses to national security.

Further codifying its position in the zeitgeist, anti-corruption is now featured as a key part of the Biden administration’s foreign policy, in which it describes “[c]orruption [as] a cancer within the body of societies—a disease that eats at public trust and the ability of governments to deliver for their citizens.” This has been buttressed by policy and programmatic products from USAID’s new Anti-Corruption Task Force, including new dekleptification guidance and an anti-corruption strategy (this is a draft for public comment, the final strategy is forthcoming). With the convergence of public interest, political will and resources, there are even more tools at the disposal of anticorruption advocates to support durable anti-corruption reforms – including, importantly, visibility. As the adage goes, sunlight is the best disinfectant.

The renewed focus on anti-corruption, and the global effort behind it, has the potential to advance reforms and unlock avenues to address an insidious problem. USAID’s global guidance rightly emphasizes that while the transnational elements of corruption are pernicious and require a globally coordinated response, it is local civil society leaders, activists and reformers working at the country level who are on the frontlines.

We have seen this dynamic firsthand in our work in Zimbabwe, where we worked for 20 years to increase the influence of citizens, acting collectively through formal and informal groups, for more democratic and accountable governance. Building on our network of trusted relationships forged through our work and prior research into Zimbabwe’s political economy, we set out to understand how illicit finance has affected Zimbabwe mining, energy, agriculture, transport and health sectors.

In this context, Pact is publishing a new report, Infamous By Design: Illicit Finance in Zimbabwe. This report synthesizes the key insights and lessons from Pact’s examination of illicit finance in Zimbabwe and illuminates the economic and political drivers that enable—or in some cases incentivize—Zimbabweans to participate in illicit finance.

Our new report synthesizes the key insights and lessons from Pact’s examination of illicit finance in Zimbabwe and illuminates the economic and political drivers that enable—or in some cases incentivize—Zimbabweans to participate in illicit finance.

The report also offers recommendations on how to advance transparent and accountable governance in Zimbabwe, drawing on the experiences of anti-corruption advocates around the world, and how to identify clear channels for exchange for likeminded reformers in and outside Zimbabwe. Some immediate areas of priority are:

  • CSOs and journalists have demonstrated that there is ample demand for their work, evidenced by rising levels of public interest in corruption and government action in response to this pressure, such as the cancellation of Covid-19 relief contracts following allegations of corruption by journalists. CSOs’ and media’s work are distinct but complementary and identifying how to leverage their respective strengths could amplify the work of both. They would equally benefit from understanding how to better use public data sources to support their individual advocacy and reporting, respectively. It is also critical to strengthen data use results chains by identifying opportunities to improve information collection and sharing between civil society and media actors, and to support efforts to reframe illicit finance as a constitutional concern, as constitutional issues have recently been at the forefront of civic activism.
  • Thanks to a recent raft of legislation, several of Zimbabwe’s laws, such as the Freedom of Information Act and the Public Procurement and Disposal of Public Assets Act, would begin to stem the flow of illicit finance if properly enacted. Integrity-minded government officials and parliamentarians should capitalize on pockets of political will to enforce integrity legislation and address loopholes. To have a long-term impact, the ambition of these individuals will need to be codified into institutions. Strengthening the capacity and independence of the Zimbabwe Anti-Corruption Commission, financial intelligence units, the judicial system and SOE boards will significantly strengthen Zimbabwe’s ability to investigate financial crimes and sanction offenders.

Actors outside Zimbabwe play an important role in consolidating these gains. In the short term, donors and multilaterals can explore how to support strengthening data use and uptake and capacitate existing systems within Zimbabwe to increase accountability and address weak links. In the long term, donors should encourage and facilitate sharing of lessons learned in fighting illicit finance between international and Zimbabwean actors and support advocacy and citizen education in development partners’ home countries. Linking the efforts of local actors with global initiatives may support more durable solutions that are greater than the sum of their parts. As the world continues to focus on identifying and eliminating places to stash ill-gotten gains, corrupt actors will adapt at the continued expense of the world’s poor. The human cost associated with paying bribes, taking counterfeit drugs, experiencing limited access to services and living with sub-standard quality of infrastructure in Zimbabwe is clear—a sobering reality mirrored in other country contexts. The toll of corruption extends beyond borders, exacerbating worrying global trends and undermining good governance. However, solutions to transnational problems are only as strong as their weakest links. Transparency and accountability champions must capitalize on opportunities to deepen global collaboration, knowledge and skills exchange around illicit finance.

Actions taken in Zimbabwe to tamp down on illicit finance do not occur in a vacuum. Global initiatives to counter illicit finance must remain cognizant of the challenges facing local anti-corruption champions and help them mitigate those to avoid missing blind spots and creating new loopholes that can be exploited later. We hope that illuminating how the web of illicit finance has been spun in Zimbabwe will contribute to this momentum and provide transparency and accountability champions with even more tools to rise to the challenge.