HARARE, October 10 (The Source) – President Mugabe has always hated it when Finance Ministers had minds of their own. In Ignatius Chombo, Mugabe has his yes-man.
By giving control of the economy to Chombo, the poster-boy of corruption, Mugabe has again pulled the finger at those that still imagined they could appeal to what sense of morality the President may have left. There isn’t any shame left, Mugabe is telling everyone.
With Monday’s Cabinet reshuffle, it is a message he is once again sending to his critics and supporters alike; loyalty trumps everything else, including any dirty past record, or the economy.
Mugabe has seldom had good relationships with his Finance Ministers; the whole point of their job is to be disciplined with money. Mugabe has never understood that. His idea of a Finance Minister’s job is that they are there only to keep his political machinery well-oiled and his comforts well taken care of, and without question.
With the unquestioning loyalty to Mugabe that Chombo has shown over the years, he is the best man for the job in Mugabe’s eyes.
Chombo will not be like Chinamasa, whose attempts to cut government spending annoyed Mugabe. Chinamasa’s attempts to cut costs by ending bonuses and cutting ghost workers and 3000 youth workers from the wage bill were publicly denounced by Mugabe. His bid to reengage international financiers was seen as a form of treason.
There is a reason why many would laugh when Chombo, in his last job as Home Affairs Minister, spoke out against corruption. His record in that regard has little competition;
· In 2007, a tape was played in court where Chombo was heard appearing to ask for a $70,000 bribe from Jayesh Shah, in exchange for supplying buses to Zupco, the state owned bus company. The head of Zupco, Charles Nherera, went away for two years instead. The police officer investigating Chombo was transferred to a rural post in Manicaland.
· In 2010, it was revealed in a divorce case that Chombo owned over a hundred properties across the country. The assets ranged from homes in Glenview to flats in Harare, stands in Beitbridge, prime real estate in Glen Lorne and large tracts of land on the banks of the Zambezi in Binga.
· A 2010 report into Harare revealed how Chombo amassed vast properties in the capital; he would identify pieces of land, and he would essentially apply to himself for the right to buy the land. The councillors who were part of that investigation were all arrested.
· A report revealed how brazen Chombo was; it was revealed that Augur Investments, the company Chombo himself awarded the contract for the project, shared the same address – 62 Quorn Road in Mt Pleasant – with Chombo’s company, Harvestnet Investments.
Augur had signed the deal without ever going to tender, and before it was even registered. It only registered months later, in Estonia. The company’s foreign address led to a small flat in an industrial district of Estonia’s capital, Tallinn.
A separate audit by the Auditor-General into the construction of the Harare airport road showed that Harare City Council was overpaying for the project.
Despite all this, Chombo has for years shown great skill in self-preservation. He has survived all these claims of corruption because he knew very well what many have failed to learn; take care of Mugabe’s interests and everything else, from sleaze to incompetence, becomes irrelevant.
“People expect me to act on corruption. They say so-and-so has emerged rich, has bought houses and is corrupt without proving it. How do you prove they stole? We cannot victimise people because there is an appearance of a person prospering,” Mugabe said at one time, when quizzed on the wealth of the likes of Chombo.
Mugabe obviously knows the corruption around him. He simply chooses it to control his lieutenants, and Chombo will always be on a short leash.
His loyalty to Mugabe has been total, and he has oiled it well. While he was on a property acquisition spree, he never forgot to pay his dues.
“All the stands were sold to people who were not on the housing waiting list through directives from the Minister. This was against the standing council policies and regulations,” the 2010 report said.
Among the beneficiaries of the properties he acquired in Glen Lorne was Debra Marufu, the wife of Reward Marufu, first lady Grace Mugabe’s late brother.
He had even grander ways of showing gratitude. When Government decided the country needed a new Parliament, a committee of MPs was put together to find a new location. The Kopje area of the city was identified, on the belief it would held renew the decaying but historic corner of the city.
But Chombo saw an opportunity. Bypassing the MPs, he declared that the new Parliament would in fact be in Mt Hampden, in President Mugabe’s home district of Zvimba. Parts of Nyabira and Mazowe would be annexed for the project. Joel Gabbuza, the MP of Binga who was part of that committee, said the whole plan had been “shrouded in secrecy”.
Demand for property around the proposed site of the new Parliament was sold off to well-connected developers and continues to grow in value.
More recently, when a court ordered police to stop the eviction of villagers at Arnold Farm, grabbed by First Lady Grace Mugabe, Chombo simply refused to comply. He has angrily threatened anyone “denigrating” the First Family and likes to describe protesters as “malcontents”.
He is a holder of two PhDs, one in Adult Education from Vanderbilt University, Nashville, and another in Higher Education, from the Texas Woman’s University.
Chombo has shown little sign of the economic prudence that will be needed in his new job. In 2013, he ordered all councils to cancel ratepayers’ debts. The move was meant to win urban voters over to the Zanu-PF party, but it wiped out at least $600 million in potential council revenues. It has left urban councils limping to this day, struggling to deliver basic services.
A Transparency International report in 2016 said the police, Chombo’s last department, was the most corrupt institution, followed by local government, the department Chombo had headed prior to Home Affairs.
Under his leadership, police kept a tight lid on its finances. Auditor-General found multiple police stations were not banking their daily takings from roadblocks.
The reality of the job of Zimbabwean Finance Minister has a way of taming even the hardest radicals. But Chombo has never shown any sign he is one for frugality and is unlikely to change. He is never one to say “no” to Mugabe, as this is how he has made him a firm Mugabe favourite.
What Zimbabwe’s economy needed now was someone to cut spending and enforce discipline. It needed a person with credibility and beyond reproach. The economy needed someone trusted by consumers, business and international financiers.
But the President has shown us time and again; there is a big difference between what the country needs, and what Mugabe wants.