Bribery – Way Of Life For Struggling Zimbabwe’s Civil Servants

Its tyres now look as slippery as wet soap while the body, patched with metal ware of different colours, also leans precariously on its left side.

The aged vehicle struggles to a stop on the signal of a traffic police officer manning a road-block along the busy road.

After some effort, the driver, hardly 20 years of age, finally forces its tormented engine to a sudden halt.

He jumps off and heads to a stout police officer standing under a tree next to the road and hands him an envelope. The hefty police officer takes the envelope and let the driver go free.

Suddenly, the incident dominates the talk among the passengers, who risk their lives by riding in broken down commuter buses. The passengers are now familiar with the law-breaking commuter drivers and how they bribe their way to freedom.
“Mari yako chete ndiyo inotaura,” (Your money can buy you out of anything), boasted the commuter omnibus driver as he joined the excited talk.

Acts of bribery have now become normal everyday life particularly among Zimbabwe’s poorly paid civil servants. Most civil servants are earning about US$ 150.

Recently, a Chikurubi prison officer was arrested after attempting to assist a group of dangerous criminals to escape from prison on the promise of huge monetary returns.

It emerged later the young officer had also connived with one of his bosses to commit the act.

“This is going to be our way of life for as long as government continues to ignore our pleas for a salary increase,” said one officer who works for the Vehicle Inspection Depot in Harare.

“It is apparent that the government does not worry about our welfare. There is no way you can survive on such little salary in a country with a US$502 poverty datum line. You just have to find means to survive.”

Tendai Chikowore, chairperson of the APEX Council, the main negotiating arm for government workers in Zimbabwe, told agitated civil servants at a recent rally that they were being betrayed by their colleagues working for money spinning departments like the passport office.

Unlike in 2008 where almost everyone could sell something and even trade in scarce foreign currency in order to survive, the situation was different now.

The country now used foreign currency and the products which were previously scarce were now found in the shops.

In the past, corruption was seen as abhorrent and was mostly practiced by greedy people. However, nowadays, most men and women who shunned the practice, had now mastered the art, and had joined the bandwagon.
“The culture of demanding bribes in Zimbabwe has become so deeply rooted that it would take generations to root it out,” said Fikile Moyo, a Harare resident. “It has taken 10 years to get into the people. They have tasted its fruits.”

Twenty two year old Tendai Marimo, a student with a Harare tertiary college, said it was even harder for people without money to get assistance from government offices.

“As for us women we sometimes find ourselves forced into unwanted love relationships in order to get help.

“Personally, I pretended to be interested in falling in love with a police officer at a Harare police station because I wanted him to go and serve child maintenance summons to my former husband.”

Asked if government had ever tried to find out on how civil servants survived, Public Service Minister Eliphas Mukonoweshuro said:  “These are administrative issues that I do not deal with. Why don’t you ask the ministry’s permanent secretary?”

Finance Minister Tendai Biti said the government was struggling to pay the huge salary bill and even donors had said it was too high. Biti has since announced a salary freeze for civil servants until the government’s financial position improves.