As the country forges on with the Covid-19 lockdown, we have some Government officials demanding bribes from people who need exemption letters.
As we report elsewhere today, some police officers and other Government officials are demanding bribes of up to US$50 from businesspeople and ordinary people who need the letters to be able to move around despite the stay-home order which does not allow persons not providing an essential service from travelling beyond five kilometres of their homes.
This practice is troubling on a few fronts.
Some people who are genuinely in need of the documents and are delivering an essential service, but who might not have the US$50 to pay, or who might be unwilling to pay may be frustrated in their efforts to secure an exemption letter.
Also, because the officials are effectively selling exemption letters to anyone who approaches them with US$50 in hand, there is a big possibility that people who provide no essential service, thus ineligible to get an exemption letter are paying to get them. This enables them to move around, violating the lockdown stay-home order, crowding city centres which increases the risk of Covid-19 infections. On the basis of a bought exemption letter, such people are able to violate the lockdown.
The report we have captures what is happening in Gweru, but we think that this is a national challenge.
Indeed, the Covid-19 pandemic has created its own cadre of criminals, all working to undo the Government and everyone else’s commendable efforts to contain the infection.
We have people selling Covid-19-free certificates. We have people faking Covid-19-free certificates. We have people flouting tender procedures to enrich themselves.
We also have law enforcement officers demanding bribes at police road blocks designed to curb unauthorized travelling. Now we have some police officers and Government officials selling exemption letters.
This practice is condemnable because it, on one hand, frustrates genuine essential service providers and, on the other, allows non-essential service providers, including criminals such as illegal foreign exchange traders in Gweru who are roaming streets there armed with exemption letters they are not entitled to. These are dangerous activities that must just stop.
The Zimbabwe Anti-Corruption Commission (Zacc) is encouragingly on that beat already, as its spokesperson Commissioner John Makamure said.
He said reports have been made to the commission and full-scale investigations have been launched in an effort to weed out corrupt elements among Government officials responsible for issuance of exemption letters.
“The Zimbabwe Anti-Corruption Commission has received several complaints of Government officials and police officers demanding bribes in order to issue exemption letters to registered businesses and travellers. The Commission would like to sternly warn perpetrators of the vice that the long arm of the law will soon catch up with them.
“We are investigating the reports and would like to appeal to the public to immediately report the officials involved,” he said.
Comm Makamure said registered small scale businesses were being affected more by such malpractices.
“Statutory Instrument 10 of 2021 is very clear on the exemption. There are no fees to be paid to obtain an exemption letter,” he said.
We expect arrests to be made so that the message against bribery in processing of exemption letters can be sent through, and sent through most strongly.
It is obvious that the officials who are demanding bribes to frustrate applicants or to licence unauthorized people are known. Zacc will be happy to get more people reaching them with accurate information of the officials who are engaging in this corrupt activity.
Applicants who note that their applications are being deliberately delayed by an officer attempting to extract a bribe are also encouraged to reach Zacc or other law enforcement agents so that follow-ups can be undertaken.