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Media ban undermines govt's sincerity in fighting graft
Ray Matikinye, The Zimbabwe Independent
February 23, 2007

LAST week’s blocking of journalists by a senior Reserve Bank of Zimbabwe (RBZ) official from hearing evidence during a parliamentary probe into gold dealing could easily turn the fight against corruption into a dead letter.

The information screen could undermine the sterling work done thus far by parliamentary committees since they started to allow the press to attend their meetings. The victim of this move is the public who have a right to know — a fundamental facet of any democracy and a key weapon in the fight against corruption.

Picture the frustration and angst of a mob about to catch a thief in the village. Just then the community leader asks everyone to retreat, because the loot likely to be retrieved from the burglar could cause social upheaval in the community.

Mirirai Chiremba, the director of financial intelligence, inspectorate, evaluation and security at the RBZ, who refused to give evidence before parliament’s special committee in the presence of journalists set an unwelcome precedent that imperils the oversight role vested in portfolio committees. But Clerk of Parliament Austin Zvoma this week said this was not unusual.

"One swallow does not make a summer," he said. Portfolio committees are meant to make government ministries, departments and ministers accountable for their actions.

Chiremba’s recent show of shyness also sounds the death knell for all pretence government has been retailing regarding its fight against corruption and to name and shame corrupt officials.

One useful insight of the request is that Chiremba involuntarily let the cat out of the bag on the frightening level of corruption in the illegal gold mining saga.

"I do not think it is suitable to have the press here. I do not wish to say anything that will cause instability in the country," Chiremba pathetically whimpered, evidently ignorant of his public duty.

The request to put a lid on media coverage on illegal gold mining activities countermands RBZ governor Gideon Gono’s observation: "Unless and until a deterrent framework is put in place and is consistent across the board, the country risks continuing to engage in disruptive brawls with economic crimes to no avail or benefit to the country."

Media exposure is one such deterrent.

Parliamentary committees are set up in terms of Standing Order Number 151 to examine the expenditure, administration and policy of government departments and other matters falling under their jurisdiction.

Analysts says Chiremba’s actions serve to justify strong fears expressed by some stakeholders who have appeared before the committees to give oral evidence but have flatly refused to name names, scared of endangering their lives.

As part of recent parliamentary reform measures to "take parliament to the people", the media has been allowed into committee hearings over the past few years.

But Zvoma said nothing had changed, adding that there was nothing untoward in proscribing press coverage.

"The media is not being banned," Zvoma said in reference to the Reserve Bank official landmark incident.

"But there can be selective exclusion for the media if any official is giving oral evidence which they do not want the media to divulge."

He said this was in accordance with Select Committee rules.

Banning by a different name, it would appear! This is precisely the sort of information that needs to be made public.

Zimbabwe is grappling with high levels of corruption and illegal dealings, which have enriched a few while pushing the majority of the people deeper into poverty.

"No one can prescribe to the committee what issues ought to be covered by the press because of what they perceive as national importance. The discretion rests with the committee," Zvoma said, citing Select Committee Rule Number 16.

What made the incident more relevant for the media was how it could expose the fat cats living off the fat of illegal gold mining, particularly after accusations by small-scale miners recently that the RBZ had been provided with evidence of illegal activities and the perpetrators.

Political analyst John Makumbe said the request by the RBZ official says a lot about people in the RBZ, Cabinet and the ruling Zanu PF party.

President Mugabe on Wednesday admitted some of his ministers were dishonest.

"His request was understandable," Makumbe, who is a political science lecture at the University of Zimbabwe, said. "It is obvious that some of the people he was supposed to name have the capacity to mess up his life. He would be afraid for his life, or his job because some of the people his evidence would implicate are too powerful and the press would go to town about it."

Makumbe said even President Mugabe was afraid to name them.

He said while parliamentary committees have done a good job and played an important role in probing corruption and other illegal dealings, they still remained toothless.

"They write reports which are damaging but neither the Anti-Corruption Commission, the police nor the judiciary takes them seriously. They never make follow-ups and the committees remain a circus," Makumbe added.

While the committees provide an opportunity to expose the wheeling and dealing, Makumbe doubted their usefulness.

"Committee members know they have no bodyguards to protect them," he said.

Committee vice-chair Tsitsi Muzenda told journalists after the closed-door session that the RBZ had not disclosed names of senior government officials involved in minerals smuggling because it did not have such

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