ED, the broken window philosophy
Nick Mangwana View from the Diaspora
There are crimes that injure individuals, and then there are crimes that injure society. Crimes that injure individuals can be measured through weighing scales of gravity.
Is it a serious injury or is it just a minor abrasion?
What are the long-term psychological effects and many such questions?
But any crime that injures society cannot be considered minor.
This is because such crimes don’t break bones or break hearts. They break society.
They damage generations. One such a crime is that of abuse of office.
Many are being arrested and arraigned for this malady and until all are deterred, many more will suffer the same fate.
We should remain resolute and undeterred.
Those who think that President Mnangagwa is being petty should probably think again. He is only applying the “Broken Window Theory”.
The Broken Window Theory is a criminology concept that was popularised by two Americans known as James Q. Wilson and George Keeling.
It is highly used in fighting crime in American neighbourhoods. In Zimbabwe whilst nobody is saying they are applying it, it is actually being used to fight abuse of office.
Wilson and Keeling believed that the failure to address simple problems (crimes) in a timely manner fostered a belief among community residents that all mechanisms of formal and informal social control have failed. Residents would eventually surrender streets, and other public spaces to the criminals who saw the lack of cohesiveness as a massive opportunity to do as they pleased, bringing total collapse.
This is what was happening in Zimbabwe. Corruption started and still starts as simple bribes at roadblocks, police check points and ports of entry. Sometimes even on getting birth certificate for a child or getting an early date to see a marriage officer.
Once this was tolerated it soon escalated to major tenders worth millions of dollars.
This is why Zimbabweans should support the arrest of any public official who is accused of abuse of office regardless of how petty the crime seems to be compared to what the public thinks are grand thefts happening elsewhere.
These things have a way of obeying the law of diminishing returns as well as proliferating.
We have been conditioned to tolerate corruption as a permanent human condition that we even hear murmurs of outrage when a member of the Zanu-PF Politburo and former long serving Cabinet Minister is arrested for something people felt was a minor crime because it involved $30 006.
It is the same outrage they express when someone is arrested for corruptly awarding a contract prejudicing a State enterprise of $13 000. Or when someone is found with unexplained bags of rice hidden in their house and they are arrested for it.
One of the biggest ways of fighting corruption is fighting our attitudes towards it.
The diversion of resources from the poor to the rich is a big part of the problem with corruption.
The President knows that beside creating inefficiencies, corruption impedes investment.
It doesn’t only create an extra bottleneck but it is a direct cost. It is retributive towards those that decide to do things the right way.
The Zimbabwe is Open for Business mantra cannot flourish under such a climate.
There is no engagement Zimbabwe can do with the international community without dealing with the high tolerance for corruption.
There are many international treaties and conventions which have declared that corruption is perverts the rule of law, undermines trust in public institutions and distorts the orderliness with which society should function.
A psychologist known as Zimbardo had two vehicles both without a number plates.
He parked both vehicles in two different rough ghettos one in New York and the other in California.
A father, mother and their young son quickly descended on the car, which looked abandoned in the New York ghetto of Bronx.
They removed the radiator and battery. It took less than 24 hours to have everything stripped from that vehicle, it was smashed up and kids made the remaining carcass a plaything. Let’s see what happened to the vehicle in California.
As for the vehicle in the California ghetto of Palo Alto, it was the owner Mr Zimbardo himself who took a sledgehammer and smashed it up a bit.
Soon after a lot of people joined in the majority of which were well groomed, well cut and dressed adults. This is how crime catches on and across social stations.
The Broken Window Theory says that when minor offences go unchallenged soon they become a breeding ground for more serious criminal activity.
This is the philosophy that President Mnangagwa seems to be applying in dealing with every case of abuse of office regardless of how small it may look.
Just as much as the broken window in a township indicates that there something breaking down about a community, an official abusing public office is an indication of a broken system.
An official who abuses publicly entrusted power for private gain cannot be trusted to pursue that which benefits the common good.
Those who use public office for private advantage or private gain of their networks are not only abusing public office, but they are also committing political crime.
This is why these crimes are leading to arrests.
These arrests whilst not marquee in the quantum sense is key because they are what tell the community that the tolerance threshold is as low as zero.
We need to build public trust in our systems and officials and that can only happen the moment the public realises that the official in is in his office to deliver a service for the benefit of the commonwealth. Fighting abuse of office is the only sure way of rebuilding public trust.
Greater emphasis should be placed against such things as petty bribery and minor frauds as well as any infringements such as abuse of office.
Focussing on high-profile cases is good for its publicity but should run alongside the message that breaking windows is not okay.
If one officer abuses their office and are not punished then unconstrained abuse will lead to unconstrained disorder.
The broken window philosophy is being applied in our case as it shows that the government is committed to resolving what others may perceive as petty crimes reflects a diligence to address more serious issues such as grand theft of public resources.
If the state shows little tolerance for payment of bribes of as little as $5 then that would translate to a whole societal intolerance of graft across all metrics. When it comes to abuse of office, there is nothing minor.
Our society needs to know and believe that public officials can be trusted.
There should be positive evaluation of our political system first by its own citizens before foreigners pick on the same vibe and evaluate it using the same prism.
We have to believe in the nobility of our public official and those they are in their positions as stewards prepared to execute their responsibility fiducially.
If the citizens accept that the system is distorted, then it means that their fundamental understanding regarding their own government and society in general is cockeyed.
When it comes to corruption there is no petty corruption or grand corruption. There is just corruption. So any talk that people who are being arrested have committed minor corruption offences does not wash.
Any efficient and clean system should be predictable. One should know that if they want a passport they these are the documents that are required and this is the process.
If the application is made correctly it will take this long to get it back. That’s predictability.
The same should apply for an importer bringing in goods. They should be able to compute and predict their duty tariff, and make a decision whether to still import of source locally. This is the kind of predictability that is skewed by corruption.
Actions by individual public officials affect the way the public perceives the whole system.
So, if our attitude is that any level of corruption is not tolerated and will be punished it soon catches on and this how we change the culture.
You can’t say on one hand you want Zero Tolerance towards corruption and yet on another you say why are you arresting people for minor cases of corruption.
Zero means nil. It does not mean minor. We need our society to be able to trust the councillor, clerk, teacher or policeman before it trusts the permanent secretary or minister.
This is because our people interact more with the people more than the top officials.
But that is not to say we should focus on those low ranking public officials ignoring the top tier.
President Mnangagwa’s broken window approach to combating corruption and abuse of public office is basically predicated upon the philosophy that economic progress can only thrive in a hygienic system hence the need to clean it up and have zero tolerance to dirty.
Failure to address so-called minor incidents of abuse of office leads to grand corruption, social erosion and national decline.
When people are arrested for metaphorically breaking a window, we should all celebrate because that possibly stops the burning of the house and the community church.
That comrades, is the broken window philosophy being applied in the fight against corruption.