‘Looters are known’
Individuals and companies that illegally externalised significant amounts of money from the country are known and will be prosecuted if they do not heed a three-month amnesty extended by President Emmerson Mnangagwa this week, a senior government official has said.
Zimbabwe is currently in the grips of a serious foreign currency crisis blamed by the authorities on a wide trade deficit as well as the smuggling of cash to offshore havens.
Last year, the central bank said as much as US$1,8 billion has been funneled out of the country in 2015 alone.
Mnangagwa, sworn in as president last week after former president Robert Mugabe stepped down under pressure from his party and the military, has promised economic reforms and tough action against graft.
On Tuesday, the new president announced a three-month amnesty under which illegally externalised funds could be brought back into the country with no risk of prosecution for those involved.
Misheck Sibanda, the chief secretary to the President and Cabinet, told reporters that the expiry of the moratorium would be followed by arrests and prosecution of culprits.
“After February, legal action will be taken and arrests will be made. The looters are known,” Sibanda said.
Sources with knowledge of the matter told The Financial Gazette yesterday that the net could catch high-profile individuals, many with political links and some with close ties to the new president.
Mnangagwa’s statement also hinted at the political profiles of targeted offenders.
“Activities linked to Operation Restore Legacy have, among other issues, helped uncover cases where huge sums of money and other assets were illegally externalised by certain individuals and corporates,” Mnangagwa said.
The military operation, which eventually forced Mugabe’s resignation after a week-long stand-off that saw the army effectively taking control of government, targeted the former president’s closest allies.
Announcing the operation on State television in a pre-dawn statement, major general Sibusiso Moyo said the military was targeting “criminal elements” around Mugabe.
The former president was, however, granted amnesty from prosecution, in a deal that eventually secured his exit.
However, former finance minister Ignatius Chombo, taken into captivity by the military in a nocturnal raid on his Harare home, has since been arraigned in court and faces charges of corruption, fraud and criminal abuse of office.
In June, then finance minister Patrick Chinamasa told Parliament that government had commissioned a probe into externalisation of forex.
“We are in touch now with the authorities in countries where our money is being externalised. So, sooner or later, we should have information on who is externalising money,” Chinamasa said.
Mnangagwa, a veteran of successive Mugabe governments, has used his first week in power to strike a different tone from his long-time boss. Critics have long accused Mugabe of condoning graft, especially among his top officials, during his 37 years in power.
Mindful of another criticism leveled at Mugabe, whose governments were typically big, Mnangagwa has also promised to run a leaner, more efficient administration.
“I am currently in the process of putting together a new government structure, which should essentially be leaner,” Mnangagwa told senior government officials in a meeting on Tuesday.
“This, of course, will entail the merging of some line ministries in order to remove functional duplications as well as contain unnecessary expenditures, so as to enhance productivity and efficient delivery of service.”
Mnangagwa is believed to be working on a Cabinet that could halve his predecessor’s. Mugabe’s last administration had 29 Cabinet ministers, three ministers of state, 25 deputy ministers, 10 provincial ministers and 24 permanent secretaries.
This could see the downgrading of some current ministries to departments headed by directors-general, while some, such as the two education ministries, would be combined.
Similarly, the agriculture, land and environment functions look set to be under one ministry. Other portfolios targeted for radical changes, or outright abolition, include foreign affairs, information, information communication technologies, transport and infrastructure development, small to medium enterprise development, youth and indigenisation, women’s affairs, water, cyber crime mitigation, arts, sport and culture as well as local government.
“I want to assure you that no one will be laid off, except those who have reached retirement age. Those whose ministerial posts will be abolished will be re-skilled and reassigned to other areas in the public service,” Mnangagwa said on Tuesday.
“Our people have endured economic hardships for over two decades, and now expect this new government to turn things around, within the shortest time possible.” The Financial Gazette