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ALAC, partners successfully host joint anti-corruption campaign

People queue to get legal advice from ALAC and its partners

ALAC, partners successfully host joint anti-corruption campaign

BY BYRON MUTINGWENDE

Various stakeholders in partnership with Transparency international Zimbabwe (TIZ)’s Advocacy and Legal Advice Centre (ALAC) unit successfully hosted a joint mobile legal aid campaign that attracted people from various walks of life.

The joint mobile legal aid clinic was held by ALAC with its partners, among them the Law Society of Zimbabwe (LSZ), Zimbabwe Human Rights NGO Forum, The Legal Resources Foundation, Justice for Children’s Trust, Zimbabwe Women Lawyers Association and Core at the Centre of Humanity (Catch) at Harare Gardens on Friday, May 20, 2016.

The ALAC Team Leader Danai Mabuto was available on StarFM from eight o’clock in the morning to three o’clock in the afternoon where she helped officers from the supporting partners to respond to corruption issues raised by the listeners from all walks of life during the live radio programme.

“ALAC is an anti-corruption initiative providing free legal aid services to victims and witnesses of corruption and seeks to empower male and female citizens to demand accountability and transparency. It is a community service centre that offers both pragmatic services to individuals, communities, companies and institutions who are victims of corruption or witnesses to corruption by giving legal aid and advice.

“The advocacy aspect of the centre focuses on public education and prevention strategies based on cases and complaints lodged and collated by the centre. ALAC seeks to facilitate the engagement of the public in the fight for transparency and accountability in Zimbabwe. We receive and assist victims of corruption with legal assistance and refer non-corruption matters to our different partners,” Mabuto said.

Corruption is a complex social, political and economic global phenomenon. It exacerbates poverty, undermines the rule of law and democratic institutions, destroys trust and contributes to instability. Corruption and lack of accountability are serious impediments to the progress towards the achievement of the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs), now referred to as the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs).

Corruption does not only reduce the net income of the poor but also leads to misallocation of public resources and reduced access and quality of public services from healthcare to education, water and sanitation. Corruption exacerbates poverty, gender gaps and gender inequalities which are already high. This already signals that women and girls tend to bear the burden more severe.Top of FormBottom of Form

TIZ exists to promote systemic and sustainable change towards a Zimbabwean society free of corruption.  TIZ, through its Advocacy and Legal Advice Centres (ALACs) which have since 2009 provided an independent platform for citizens to reject, report and offer suggestions on how to combat the scourge of corruption coordinated the Joint Campaigns through Mobile Legal Aid Clinics.

On Friday, more than 300 people managed to bring various corruption related cases to the officers from the various institutions which partnered ALAC for the joint mobile legal aid clinic. At the end of the day, citizens were assisted and got a better appreciation of how the various partners work and complement each other in the anti-corruption drive.

Anesu Chirisa, LSZ Programmes Manager said, “The Law Society of Zimbabwe regards with honour the fight to end corruption by ALAC and other stakeholders. The fight to end corruption tendencies and practice speaks to our core values and mandate. LSZ is a key stakeholder in the Against Corruption Together (ACT) campaign launched by the Judicial Services Commission (JSC) in February this year.”

The lawyer said that as a key institution in the fight against corruption, ACT holds regular meetings with stakeholders like the LSZ, police and prison officials, the National Prosecuting Authority and others involved in the justice delivery system.

“LSZ has established a hotline number under ACT where we receive complaints against anyone involved in corruption tendencies and practice. As the legal profession regulatory body, we take reports of corruption against our members seriously and give due attention to any complaints made against lawyers,” Chirisa said.

Patricia Gwetsayi, a legal officer with Zimbabwe Women Lawyers Association (ZWLA) said that many women face corruption particularly at the Maintenance Court. The corruption will be perpetrated by the police, prosecutors and magistrates.

She said that the respondents, usually husbands, pay bribes to magistrates to get rulings in their favour. Gwetsayi gave an example of a garage-owner who gets an income of over $2000 every month and was taken to court by a ZWLA client for maintenance. The magistrate ruled that the man was supposed to pay only $150 maintenance for four children.

“Clearly such a ruling was influenced by corruption. ZWLA is in the process of appealing the matter although a date hasn’t been set yet. We empower our clients through giving them free legal advice by giving them education on confidence building and legal processes. Although they are self actors at the lower courts, we will provide them legal representation at the higher courts,” Gwetsayi said.

ZWLA monitors court processes by sitting in court sessions to assess the proceedings. If they discover any shortcomings, they appeal or ask for review of the disputed cases. They also monitor domestic violence and rape cases at the criminal courts and corruption manifests when accused are acquitted despite overwhelming evidence against them.

Since its inception, ZWLA has enabled women and children’s access to the justice delivery system through free legal aid provision, empowerment (giving advice and education to groups of people with similar matters usually focusing on procedural issues) and community legal education. The intervention was as a result of the realization of challenges faced by women and children in accessing the justice delivery system, coupled with feminization of poverty that inhibited women from accessing justice on an equal basis with their male counterparts. ZWLA’s interventions have also been informed by emerging issues around HIV/AIDS, gender, culture and their impact on women and children’s capacity to access justice.

A social worker at Catch Zimbabwe, OreenDambaza, said they have dealt with many cases of perceived corruption but did not know how to proffer solutions until they engaged ALAC for a partnership.

“When people don’t understand how the formal justice system works, they tend to find a scapegoat by purporting that there is corruption on the part of service providers. Working together with the Justice for Children’s Trust, we handled a matter where a minor accused of rape was illegally detained in police custody at a particular police station. One of our most critical interventions is to remove minor children from detention.

“We were hoping that by the end of the day the minor would be removed from detention in line with the Children’s Act and the constitution which say that a minor should be detained as a measure of last resort. However, when we had a case conference, the officer in charge indicated that the accused lived under one roof with the victim. To preserve peace, the accused was kept in police custody until the court’s decision. It was then a matter of balancing justice both for the complainant and accused,” Dambaza said.

She added that they educate the community on the fact that juvenile offenders have rights enshrined within our local legal frameworks that needed to be respected.

An officer with the Zimbabwe Human Rights NGO Forum, Tafadzwa Christmas, said that there was a link between human rights and corruption.

“Corruption impedes the state’s ability to deliver. It is important to note that a right gives rise to an obligation. The citizen has a right to health but the state has an obligation to fulfill and promote that right. If the state is corrupt, it will affect its obligation to fulfill that right,” Christmas said.

He said that the whole human rights movement becomes a mere rhetoric when corruption is allowed to exist.

“In most cases corruption gives rise to human rights violations. In the judicial system, if one party bribes an official, there is a high likelihood that there won’t be a fair trial, access to justice and equal treatment before the law. If two people commit the same offence, one party can get a lenient sentence while the other gets a harsh one when corruption exists.

“Thus corruption is a human rights issue since it corrodes the rule of law, the independence of institutions and the judiciary,” Christmas said.

Also in partnership with ALAC is the Legal Resources Foundation (LRF) which among other things educates people on their rights and responsibilities, and mobilising them to access their rights; produces legal reference and educational materials; and provides training to community leaders and grassroots education through schools.

LRF has also provided legal assistance to marginalized people through its well-equipped legal assistance centres. It also works with authorities and institutions responsible for the justice delivery to strengthen the justice system, identify and remove loopholes, train and equip officials responsible for the administration and delivery of justice.

It also engages in test case litigation and aggressively pursues lobbying, advocacy and publicity campaigns for test case programmes through the use of lobbying and advocacy to raise awareness of human rights and promote human rights culture and observance of the rule of law; and developing the human and material resources necessary to accomplish the above.