By Byron Mutingwende
Corruption remains high in the informal sector despite spirited efforts by Transparency International Zimbabwe (TIZ) to address the vice. Cross-border traders said on Friday 2 December 2016 that there is rampant corruption at the borders, especially following the enactment of the Statutory Instrument (SI) 64 of 2016. One cross border asked Transparency International Zimbabwe to set up office in Beitbridge, which is the busiest port in Southern Africa.
Speaking at a workshop organised by Transparency International Zimbabwe to capacitate informal economy players to address corruption, Simbarashe Moyo, the Chairperson of the Combined Harare Residents Association (CHRA) said that cross-border trading is the buying and selling of goods and services between businesses in neighbouring countries, with the seller being in one country and the buyer in the other country.
“There is the obligation of an individual or organisation to account for its activities, accept responsibilities for them and to disclose the results in a transparent manner,” Moyo said.
He added that there was the need to enhance capacity and participation of cross border associations in fighting corruption. Moyo implored cross-border traders to define the challenges related to the operating environment and the existing legislation that hinders them from trading which include the Statutory Instrument SI 64 of 2016 passed in July which brought untold suffering to them.
He hailed TIZ for creating platforms that bring the different stakeholders together for a discussion on how the challenges can be addressed.
“The next time such Indaba is held, it must bring to the table policy makers, law enforcement agents who include the ZRP and Municipal police, Zimra officials, representatives of cross border traders and legal experts among others,” Moyo said.
He encouraged cross-border traders to create an independent fund that will act as the social safety net for the members of the association in times of need. At the moment cross-border traders endure sexual harassment; crime and theft; harassment due to xenophobia and at the hands of thepolice; stigmatisation; accommodation problems; delays at the border post; as well as extortion and bribery.
To be effective in demanding transparency and accountability, informal economy players called for more training in social accountability whereby their members would be empowered with social accountability tools as well as monitoring and evaluation mechanisms.
A member of the National Vendors Union of Zimbabwe (NAVUZ) bemoaned rampant corruption at Harare City Council. He said there was recommendation to the effect that some of the corrupt officials be dismissed from work but Saviour Kasukuwere, the Minister of Local Government had intervened in favour of the corrupt.
Danai Mabuto, TIZ Legal Officer said that since the issue affects the public there was the need for any citizen to use the public interest litigation discourse where one case would represent the interests of the public. Mabuto said where the members of the informal sector might fear backlash, TIZ accepted reports from anonymous whistle-blowers and would make independent investigations.
“Such gatherings give us insight into the gaps that need to be addressed in the informal sector governance. Corruption is dynamic and we employ various strategies to plug the loopholes,” Mabuto said.
Transparency International Zimbabwe does not have investigative powers so it engages the Zimbabwe Republic Police units including fraud department as well as the Zimbabwe Anti-Corruption Commission (ZACC). Tendai Muchekahanzu from the National Vendors Union of Zimbabwe highlighted the challenges that they face in the informal economy.
“As vendors, we are always duped by ZRP officials especially as they seek bribes from us, ostensibly to protect us. We realise that the ZRP crosses the line when they take over the work of municipal police officers. Immigration and customs officials demand for bribes at the borders. When we are along the way from Beitbridge for example, officials from the Immigration Department and ZIMRA, demand bribes from after allowing us to smuggle some of the goods at the border. In the end, it’s us the vendors who lose,” Muchekahanzu said.
TIZ reiterated that it wants evidence of such cases of corruption. Through its Policy Legislation and Institutional Monitoring (PLIM) unit, TIZ engages institutions like ZIMRA on such reports of corruption.
Sten Zvorwadza, NAVUZ Chairperson said that the informal sector is driving the economy.
“Due to failed policies, industries have shut down to the extent that 95% of the population is involved in the in the informal economy. Policies need to recognise that the informal economy is the engine. This includes mining, farming and so forth. There is need for formal inclusive engagement between policymakers and players in the informal economy.”
The government lacks transparency. Government indicated that the introduction of bond notes was supposed to address the informal economy but later said it was meant to be an incentive for exporters. This policy inconsistency needs to be addressed.
Zvorwadza said the government should listen to and account to its citizens. He implored citizens to speak with one voice against corruption. Attempts to regulate the growing informal sector are often tainted in corruption, a development that calls for the need to step up advocacy work in dealing with the vice.
The Zimbabwe National Statistical Agency (ZIMSTAT) 2014 Report estimated that of the 5.4-million people considered to be employed, 84% of these are engaged in the small and medium enterprises sector which recorded an estimated annual turnover of $7.4-billion in 2015.
Such figures amplify the social and economic significance of the informal sector and also reflect that the sector has become the biggest employer in the country. Despite the informal sector fast becoming the back bone of the economy, the lack of homogeneity has also meant that some elements within the sector have remained largely unregulated and least coordinated. The lack of regulation and co-ordination of such elements in the informal sector such as vendors has created several rent seeking opportunities in the current context of vendor regulation in present day Zimbabwe