Biti, Gono, Zimbabwe and the society’s eyes wide shut approach

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By Zimbabwe Investor on December 19, 2013.

The week’s headlines in various news outlets were dominated by the surprising move of the outgoing Reserve Bank of Zimbabwe’s Governor Gideon Gono to hire the immediate past Minister of Finance Tendai Biti as his lawyer in a case raised by a former senior executive at the central bank and now Member of Parliament Munyaradzi Kereke.

The decision by Gono, who was recently cleared to be appointed the Senator of Buhera on a ZANU (PF) ticket, to hire the main opposition party MDC’s second most powerful man has been saluted in various quarters as an example of maturity beyond political differences. This would have been the type of leadership the country needs except that the nature of the two gentlemen’s immediate past offices makes it a scandalous arrangement.

There is something fundamentally wrong and ethically rotten in a former governor of the central bank, hiring a former Minister of Finance to represent him a case that involves allegations of financial fraud which allegedly occurred during the governor’s term.

Half of the governor’s term of office overlapped with the Minister of Finance’s own tenure in office.

Any normal society should be demanding an investigation but unfortunately as is with most issues in Zimbabwe of the last 15 years, matters of national importance are analysed and debated from a party politics view point. The case of Gideon Gono hiring Tendai Biti is one such issue which society has decided to debate it down the MDC versus ZANU (PF) route despite the fundamental flaws in the relation that have nothing to do with party politics.

The relationship poses a serious governance and ethical question that it should be investigated with immediate effect. This is not to question the two gentlemen’s integrity but their immediate past offices demand it.

It is public knowledge that when Tendai Biti took the office of the Minister of Finance in 2009, he was breathing fire demanding that the governor of the central bank Gideon Gono must vacate his office without delay. Biti directed all fingers at Gono as the architect of Zimbabwe’s economic demise through his quasi-fiscal activities over the previous five years. ‘Gono must go’ became an all familiar tune. How the relationship between the two has changed over the past five years to a point where Gono now trusts Biti to represent him should raise a lot of questions.

There are numerous ‘what if’ probable questions to ask. One such hypothetical question to ask is: If the central bank governor offered a financial incentive to the then finance minister to look away, how would such an incentive be paid without it being obvious?

A possible hypothetical answer could be the following. Upon leaving office, the finance minister can set up a law firm which the former governor can then hire for any case against him before the courts. A huge invoice is then raised to pay for legal services rendered when in actual fact it is payment for something else which has nothing to do with the legal proceedings. This something else could be the incentive offered to the finance minister to look away during the two’s time in charge of the country’s finances.

In the financial world, this is called money laundering and both men would be well versed in such matters given their professions and experience. The authorities, through parliament must rule out the possibility of this arrangement being such before Tendai Biti is freed to represent Gideon Gono. Maybe it is asking for too much in a country where members of parliament can be brand ambassadors of private company products and services.