Fighting Corruption through Public Interest Litigation (PIL)

Fighting Corruption through Public Interest Litigation (PIL)

Corruption erodes both the state’s capacity and the public’s confidence in the state to deliver public services to its citizenry. The corrupt management of public resources compromises the state’s ability to deliver an array of services, including health, food, water, shelter, educational and welfare services, which are essential for the realisation of economic, social and cultural rights. In Zimbabwe, the abuse of office for private gain by high-level government officials and the government itself has resulted in millions of dollars being illegally siphoned out of the country. This has led to state failing to fulfill its duty to protect, and respect the socio-economic rights as laid out in Zimbabwe’s constitution.  Sadly, in societies where are high incidences of corruption, there seems to be limited and in some instances a total lack of aggressive efforts to hold public leaders accountable. This in turn leads to a high prevalence of human rights abuse at the horizontal level hence the need for Public Interest Litigation (PIL).

Public interest litigation (PIL) can be defined as the use of litigation, or legal action for the purpose of advancing the cause of the minority or disadvantaged groups or individuals, or which raises issues of broad public concern. It is a way of using the law strategically to effect social change. PIL ensures that the law responds to the needs of the public particularly, disadvantaged and minority groups.

PIL has seven objectives which include providing access to justice; reforming the law; reforming institutions; holding government accountable; empowering the disadvantaged; saving costs and raising awareness. The overall objective is to contribute to strengthening the rule of law and respect for the constitution through the above objectives. PIL can help provide a check on government, statutory and public bodies, holding them to account for failures to uphold domestic and international laws which they are bound. Since 2013, TI Z has been committed to aggressively seek opportunities for PIL (class action) to deal with interest group cases that have come through to its centres in Bulawayo, Harare and Mutare. This approach has necessitated the organization to break new ground in redressing corruption issues that causes the proliferation of poverty, human rights abuse and humanitarian circumstances affecting wide sections of society.

The United Nations Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights has argued that corruption prohibits a state from taking steps to maximize “available resources, with a view to achieving progressively the full realisation of the rights recognised in the International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights”. While most legal cases focus on obtaining a certain result for a specific client, PIL focuses on achieving social change that will impact the lives of many people through a single case. In that regard, Transparency International Zimbabwe (TI Z) believes PIL can be used as a tool to fight corruption in order to realise the socio-economic and political rights guaranteed in the constitution.