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Public Protector: New dawn or jobs for the boys?

By Joel Mandaza

If proposed constitutionals amendments sail, Zimbabwe will have a Public Protector.

This is an office meant to ensure government respects the constitution and acts within the law.

In other countries, they are known as the ombudsman.

This office, proposed in Section 243 of the Zimbabwean Constitution will be like an Ombudsman, creating a buffer between the executive and the citizenry.

Previously, these duties were under the Zimbabwe Human Rights Commission but the role will be taken over by a fully-fledged office.

While this sounds like a good idea on paper, one would be forgiven for not believing this would in a way improve the lives of any Zimbabwean.

The political elite, for whom the office exists to keep in check have a long record of not honouring directives.

Right now there is a long list of the executives’ lack of compliance with institutions of democracy.

Essentially, a Public Protector is meant to be the powerful people’s voice who commands the respect of any office, especially the Presidency.

Knowing Zimbabwe, where the rule of law and basic procedure are seen as an inconvenience, the Public Protector can be an office to accommodate an out of sorts politician instead of executing its mandate.

It can easily tilt from being a noble concept to being jobs for the boys.

If politicians, public office holders are struggling to respect existing institutions, there is no guarantee that an extra office will change their modus operandi.

We might as well save the taxpayer money by delaying the creation of the office until a time government shows intent to obey recommendations.

There is an informing track record, all other existing offices have not been taken seriously.

Auditor-General, Mildred Chiri year after year releases audit reports which are never taken seriously.

She speaks on poor organisational governance repeatedly but rarely do authorities take action.

Her reports have become a broken record.

They generate news headlines for a few weeks but are discarded soon as the public attention shifts from them.

Her fully-funded office repeatedly produces thick volumes with noble recommendations but they are not taken up with the seriousness they deserve.

Besides that, Zimbabwe wants to add another institution, with a full staff complement, offices, directors and bureaucrats with oversize suits.

This goes against the principle of monitored spending which they have tried to sell through the idea of austerity.

But all is not gloomy, in the highly unlikely instance that the office is properly functioning, the office if handled with respect can enrich our democracy.

It means the political elites should be ready to be answerable on their actions.

In South Africa, when Jacob Zuma made security upgrades at this rural Nkandla home it stirred uproar.

Then Public Protector Thuli Madonsela did a deep investigation and found Zuma to be guilty.
He was ordered to pay back the money he had used.
Can President Emmerson Mnangagwa subject himself to that level of scrutiny?

Can the Public Protector be able to call out the national leadership without varakashi (trigger happy pro-regime trolls) labelling him or her?

Zimbabwe has a very immature democracy and the idea of a Public Protector may be an expensive experiment which needs to be debated and interrogated further.

We might as well hold on to the money and put it to good use than fund an office no one will comply with.

First, they need to put the Zimbabwe Anti-Corruption Commission to good use then we can take them seriously.

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Daniel Chigundu

Daniel Chigundu is a male journalist in Zimbabwe and has been practising since September 2009. He used to the editor for The Business Connect (newspaper) in Harare, has his own news website Tourism Focus which is biased towards the tourism sector. Daniel is also working with Magamba Network on their project called Open Parliament where they do live coverage of Parliamentary activities on Twitter and Facebook. He is currently the secretary-general of the Zimbabwe Parliamentary Journalists Forum, is a member of Zimbabwe Small Broadcasters Association and a board member of Digital Communication Network. He holds a Diploma in Communication and Journalism from the Christian College of Southern Africa (CCOSA), a certificate in Youth leadership training from the Friedrich Ebert Stiftung (FES), a certificate in Citizen Journalism from Magamba Network and is currently a first-year student at Zimbabwe Open University studying for a Bachelor of Arts Honours in Ethics and Organisational Leadership.

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