The notice published in the government gazette in early March declared that construction equipment and materials, biomedical and medical equipment, medicines and drugs, and vehicles – including ambulances – are among the list of items of national interest and shall not be publicly disclosed.
It sailed through when Vice President Constantino Chiwenga took up the reins as acting president following Mnangagwa’s April trip to the UK to attend King Charles III’s coronation.
It caught the eye of opposition party leaders and activists, who stirred up protests on social media against the new law.
Some civil society organisations were moving to challenge the law in court arguing that it was unconstitutional – the government should be transparent and accountable to the taxpayers.
Mnangagwa backtracked in a statement signed by his Chief Secretary Misheck Sibanda saying the document had been published without the president’s authorisation.
“While further investigations are underway, the government wishes to advise the public that, on the instruction of His Excellency the President, the document in question has been rescinded as it has no standing at law, in policy and in terms of set government procedures. It thus should be disregarded,” Sibanda said.
Mnangagwa’s spokesperson George Charamba said while Mnangagwa was away in the UK, the health ministry, which Vice President Chiwenga also handles, had published the official procurement notice.
“It is not a good sign that a government policy of that magnitude can actually be gazetted without the knowledge of the President and his secretary,” says Gadzikwa.
Above the law
The incident on the government’s notice on procurement clearly shows the confusion within the system, says political analyst Rashweat Mukundu.
“It shows the levels of impunity that the political leadership feels it can act in terms of the utilisation of national resources,” he tells The Africa Report.
“This is a clear case of people feeling that they are above the law. They are above decency and transparency and they can act as they please.”
Mukundu says the ruling Zimbabwe African National Union-Patriotic Front (Zanu-PF) government has been operating like this since 2018.
“The national treasury has been a Zanu-PF pick bag they can loot at any time and for whatever reasons,” he says.
This law shows how the government is militarising the Health Ministry, says Vivid Gwede, a political analyst.
“Had the law not been rescinded it would have been not only detrimental to transparency and accountability, and the motive questionable, but reminiscent of secretive procurement systems characteristic of the military,” he says.
Constitutional experts indicate that since the law had been published in the Government Gazette, the official publication which carries laws, ordinances and other regulations, there can only be another law to repeal it and not just a mere press statement.
Mukundu says this is another indication of how the state’s capacity to function normally within the provision of the constitution has essentially collapsed.
“What we are dealing with is a mafia that feels they are above the law that uses state power to abuse national resources,” he adds.
“So regardless of the fact that this was withdrawn, the mere fact that someone sitting in a government office thought about this tells us of the level of the collapse of state management in this country.”
Corruption in the health ministry
Zimbabwe’s health ministry is marred by corruption scandals, particularly in its procurement processes.
The controversial procurement law implies that the public has no right to know what has been bought by the Health Ministry and how much, nor who has supplied the goods or services to the government.
Analysts say this was a draconian law meant to hide corruption under the guise of national interest.
In 2020 the Health Ministry was hit by a massive scandal when then-minister Obadiah Moyo looted $60m meant to procure Covid-19 equipment. The deal involved businessman Delish Nguwaya, who is linked to the first family.
He was later fired by Mnangagwa and Chiwenga took over the depleted health portfolio that has been hit with a lack of essential drugs such as paracetamol, and shortages of medical health personnel due to brain drain and collapsing equipment.
Since then, Chiwenga, who led a military coup that toppled Robert Mugabe from power in 2017, has been surrounding himself with his comrades from the military, including appointing Air Commodore Jasper Chimedza, the permanent secretary in the health ministry and Deputy Health Minister Dr John Mangwiro. Both have a military background.
Mangwiro is not only Chiwenga’s close ally but also his personal physician.
Considering the scandals that happened at the Ministry of Health it seems the President supports corruption, Mutare-based political analyst Wellington Gadzikwa tells The Africa Report.
Battle to control ruling party
Gwede says the gazetting of a law that sought to shield certain procurement processes in the Ministry of Health from public scrutiny obviously raised eyebrows in light of the weakening fight against corruption and the need for greater transparency.
“This is against previous revelations of corruption in the same ministry during the Covid-19 pandemic,” he says.
“But the insinuation that the law itself had been gazetted without the president’s approval and the reality that it concerns a ministry headed by his deputy raises a lot more questions. This feeds into growing speculations about infighting within the government.”
Chiwenga and Mnangagwa have been battling to control the ruling party Zanu-PF and the government.
Mnangagwa’s wife Auxillia went to Belarus with her sons in April to sign deals shrouded in secrecy with President Alexander Lukashenko on behalf of the Health ministry and government despite not being a government official.
This month the government received 18 of the 32 helicopters from Russia with some to be allocated to the Health ministry to be used as ambulances at a cost of more than $320m.
The power of social media
Gadzikwa says the rescinding of this draconian procurement law after a public outcry online shows that responsible activism and social media are things that the government is paying attention to.
“Social media is powerful in this country. That is why the government is investing a lot in social media, even Zanu-PF. If it plays its oversight role it can ensure the government is accountable,” he says.
Watchdog organisations like the think tank Veritas, Transparency International Zimbabwe (TIZ) and the Zimbabwe Coalition on Debt and Development (ZIMCODD) strongly criticised the law, saying it is unconstitutional.
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