Covid-19 and the resultant lockdowns around the world, no doubt, killed the life for just about everybody and everything.
Trans-border ships docked. That meant loss of thousands of direct and downstream jobs. Travel and tourism suffered. Most sorts of businesses scaled down or went under completely. The list is just too painful.
Of course, as is always the case, crises create opportunities for some, but these belong in the minority. These are the ones who set up overnight Covid-19 shops, made bulk orders of masks and other forms of PPEs, fixed prizes and found the right people to eat the super profits with.
Among those that suffered and are still smarting from the effects of Covid-19 lockdowns is a naughty group. Those chaps in government who make a living from travelling around the world as their offices grow cobwebs.
The lockdowns are easing off, albeit uneasily. You can now see one or two more birds in the air. Most airports had become empty shells. The ships are crawling back too, and they are lifting the boom pole for human traffic at the borders. In short, travel is increasing. By April or so, we could be back to near-normal situations.
This is good news. But it’s also bad news. The post-lockdown dispensation will bring with it quite a number of opportunities for those that have been schooled into corruption. And Zimbabwe is no exception, considering that we never run short of corrupt people, right from the top to the bottom.
Just this other day, two dudes from the security sector were talking, their faces long and eyes bleary. They were saying they could hardly afford money to buy beer and spoil their side chicks. Well, you never bother too much what people do with their money when they have it, do you? It’s the source of the money that will worry you. These dudes were blaming China for donating the coronavirus to Zimbabwe and the rest of the world. But their main bone was not with China, as such. Covid-19 killed their chances to reap thousands of good money in travel and subsistence.
And this is where the problem resides. Government officers and authorities consider foreign travel as cash cow. So, they can’t wait for the day when the runways will get running full throttle. If you move with the president, ministers or such other important people, you can rake in thousands of dollars in T&S in no time.
They have bought houses and fleets of cars with that money. And they live large even though that is not exactly the same story with the rest of the civil service where government employees live from hand to mouth. But then, is there anything wrong with these officers and authorities getting the money?
As they say, this is in two places. The first place—the “no” answer to the above question, is that, ordinarily, you can’t fault them for receiving the money. Budgets at whatever level in government provide for travel. Travel is a bureaucratic necessity if things are done according to the book. If you are in the right office and you then travel and get your allowances, no problem.
The second place is that, more often than not, officials travel for the wrong reasons. Just making money which would otherwise be put to use in other essential areas. And, quite often again, this is money that’s not supposed to be used for travel anyway. As we speak, and as we move towards the new normal, you can bet on the possibility that the naughty ones are already drawing up lists of where they want to go, with who and the amounts involved. They have lost out on almost a whole year of easy money so, when the time comes, they will be travelling like yoyos.
Let’s say they have made savings on foreign travel. No problem. Here, they can travel without us asking questions. But will they have a good reason to be travelling? Budgets are financial projections based on planned activities and anticipated needs. Since the budgets were made prior to Covid-19, the trips may have been overtaken by events. Yet some people are still going to insist on using the money on foreign trips that are no longer relevant. That would be fraudulent, of course, and fraud is a form of corruption.
Granted, some cross-border events were postponed, not cancelled. Here, there is a good reason to travel if that’s going to add value to institutional goals and objectives. But people must avoid squeezing things out just so that they can just travel and bring their baes cheap handbags from New York or Tokyo.
But we all know that junior officers are not going to travel if their bosses don’t want them to. The danger—as has mostly been the case—is that the bosses will be conniving with their staff to make trips up. They will bloat lists of people on the travel itinerary if that’s going to help them. And they will also inflate the travelling periods, blow up the trip budgets and stretch the allowances.
Needless to say, there is no limit to who the bosses we are talking about here are. From the president, to his deputies, to his wife, to ministers, to perm secs, to directors, down to lesser department heads.
It’s not as if someone is making things up here. Do you remember that trip when a whole government village travelled to attend a seminar on the subject of islands? You can’t get a single “island” on the Zambezi river, the nearest you can go to find an island. Why they went to attend a seminar on islands is a guess that attracts no prize.
You will remember the Mugabe kids. The boys who were spoiling themselves on more than US$200 000 a week in Johannesburg even as their father was declaring the family businesses insolvent, towards the end of his rule. Do you know where they were getting the money from? Well, we don’t know exactly, but it’s easy to put one and two together.
That was the same time Grace Mugabe was travelling with her now late husband like a swallow in summer. The whole family and extended family travelling to New York for UN summits. And spending long months away from home. Naughty rumour mongers were saying they were taking away at least US$5 million in hard cash all the time they went out. And those rumour millers were also saying Grace pocketed the change—a couple of millions per trip.
And, when Mugabe passed on, how many millions were found in a single bag at his rural home in Zvimba by the way? And how many other bags were at the Blue Roof?
Tawanda Majoni is the national coordinator at Information for Development Trust (IDT) and can be contacted on firstname.lastname@example.org.