Transparency and Accountability lacking in national COVID-19 responses

 In Campaigns, Press Releases

Our COVID-19 situational update for this week provides an analysis of the impact of the national responses on mining affected communities, as observed during this week. The analysis was based on information compiled from community monitors in Hwange, Lupane, Arda Transau, Bikita and Mutoko, which are CNRG’s project sites.

COVID-19 cases are increasing in Zimbabwe amid growing fears and despondency among the general population over the government’s unpreparedness to deal with the pandemic.   Although the Minister of Health and Child Care, Obadiah Moyo has been assuring the nation about Zimbabwe’s high level of preparedness, it appears beyond the announcement of the lockdown, there is no functioning COVID-19 crisis management strategy by the Government. It emerged earlier this week that the country has only one healthcare centre which has the capacity to handle COVID-19 patients[1].

The death of the second and third COVID19 patients in Bulawayo and Harare respectively this week demonstrates that Zimbabwe has extremely limited or no capacity to test for coronavirus. This is demonstrated by the message issued by the Ministry of Health showing that the 2nd patient first visited a General Practitioner in Bulawayo on the 23rd of March but was only admitted in hospital on the 2nd of April – 11 days later. There is no mechanism to track suspected cases of Coronavirus who continue spreading the virus till their final moments.

Zimbabwe is in its second week of the lockdown, announced by President Emmerson Mnangagwa as part of the measures to curb the spread of the virus. Most businesses have closed while essential services, producers and retailers of essential goods, including food shops, pharmacies and informal food markets remain open. Power and water supplies, as essential services, have also been availed. Public transport in the form of ZUPCO and PSC buses was availed for workers in the essential services sector. 

Lack of Transparency

Zimbabwe has not been testing as many people as expected, possibly due to capacity limitations, hence the low statistics of COVID-19 cases. The official number of confirmed COVID-19 positive cases in Zimbabwe stands at 11, with three deaths. The criteria for testing has remained shrouded in secrecy and the public, especially those outside Harare, have not been informed of steps to follow in order to be tested. The 11th confirmed case which is also the second death opened a Pandora’s Box and gave a window view into lack of transparency and accountability in the handling of the pandemic. According to an update by the Ministry of Health and Child Care dated 7 April 2020, the now deceased case Number 11 died without knowing his status. The results came out three days after his death. This scenario shows the risk health workers and the public are exposed to. A document pertaining to the now deceased case Number 11, which CNRG had the privilege to see, gives useful information which has not been released by government. The document paints a gloomy picture of Zimbabwe’s preparedness to handle the pandemic. It took more than four days for the samples to be transported to Harare for testing. The delay in the transportation of samples, according to the document, was because courier services are not operating and intercity travel is banned due to lockdown. This exposes government’s failure to put in place measures to effectively cover critical life-saving errands or activities. .

Also, the government is yet to publicly disclose all the donations received from development agencies and accounting how the money and medical consumables are being distributed.

CNRG calls on the government to:

  • Establish provincial and district COVID-19 testing and isolation centres.
  • Expedite testing of suspected case samples and delivery of equipment for personal protection. The government can use Air force of Zimbabwe helicopters to ensure timely delivery of equipment and services.
  • Improve disclosure of information related COVID-19 funding in line with Section 62 of the Constitution of Zimbabwe Amendment (No.20) Act, 2013 which provides for the right to information held by the State or any government institution or agency in the interest of public accountability.
  • Implement beneficial ownership disclosure and transparency on companies supplying COVID-19 goods and services in line with Section 72 of the Companies and Business Entities Act which states that companies should disclose the beneficial owners of their businesses in order to avoid fraud, misuse of political power to get tenders as well as conflict of interest.
  • Use information and communication technology as widely as possible in the COVID-19 response, e.g. in contact tracing

COVID-19 widens social inequalities

The impact of policy inconsistences in natural resources exploitation manifest in social inequalities in the communities hosting extractive industries. COVID-19 has worsened these social inequalities as the poor and vulnerable bear the risk of contracting coronavirus. The World Health Organisation (WHO) and health officials have urged people to wear masks, sanitize their hands and the environment to prevent themselves from the pandemic. Across CNRG areas of operation, extractive companies have not activated their corporate social responsibility policies to suit the COVID-19 condition so as to augment community’s supplies of detergents and sanitation facilities, for instance. However, extractive companies have procured detergents, sanitisers and protective wear for their staff only, totally ignoring the hygiene and sanitation needs of communities in which they are located.

Workers who were retrenched by Hwange Colliery Company over the years turned to the informal sector for survival. Today the informal sector has been hard-hit by measures such as lockdown put in place to curb the spread the COVID-19 virus.  It has become difficult for the informal traders to feed their families as they invariably subsist on daily takings, with no savings. Although government announced that it is ‘considering interventions to minimise the impact of the lockdown . . . by providing assistance to cushion against loss of income for subsistence,’ informal traders in all the mining affected communities have not been contacted and this shows that they are likely to be excluded since they have limited information about the government’s assistance. In addition, the selection of beneficiaries of government’s assistance has traditionally been marred by political controls.

The 6 million Cash Transfer programme announced by the government[2] last week is yet to start in all the areas where CNRG is operating. However, in Hwange, the Department of Social Welfare has indicated that it is in the process of compiling names of the Cash Transfer programme beneficiaries.

CNRG calls for:

  • Transparency in the identification and distribution of programme beneficiaries.
  • Mining companies to activate their Corporate Social Responsibility policies to suit the COVID-19 demands and rescue community members in areas where they operate by providing the necessary COVID-19 prevention equipment.

Ban on public transport and its effect on health access

People living with HIV and those with compromised immunity who require frequent visits to health centres to obtain medications are facing transport challenges following the lockdown.  President Mnangagwa banned all public transport during the lockdown.  UNAIDS classifies people living with HIV and with compromised immune system as being at a greater risk of COVID-19 infections. In Lupane, patients on Anti-Retroviral Drugs living around Lupaka area have resorted to sending one representative to Lupaka Health Centre to collect medication for a group of patients in the community. In as much as this measure is meant to decongest the health centres and minimise the risk of contracting or spreading coronavirus, it reduces interaction between patients and health service providers. Pregnant mothers from Hwange urban, Lupane rural, and Bikita are also struggling to travel to health  centres for ante-natal care. In Arda Transau, where people travel to Mutare General Hospital for medication, there is also limited public transport and as a result, some patients with chronic conditions are defaulting on their medication.

CNRG calls on the government to:

  • Consider the transportation needs of those seeking non-Covid19 healthcare services as well.
  • Decentralise the distribution of medication for chronic illnesses and ART to village and ward levels.
  • Provide those on ART with 3 months’ supply of medication.

People with disabilities and COVID-19

In communities hosting extractive industries, people with disabilities have also been greatly affected by COVID-19 induced lockdown.  Whereas people with disabilities have already been victims of social and economic exclusion, COVID-19 has exacerbated the barrier to access information and social services. Community monitors representing people with disabilities in Hwange and Lupane bemoaned lack of information for their peers living in rural areas. Awareness campaigns are not accommodative of the contextual and special needs of people with disabilities. The blind have not been provided with braille material while the deaf in these communities have not seen any sign language health experts conducting awareness campaigns. The community monitors noted that generally, people with disabilities have more health-care needs than their counterparts who are able-bodied.

The government is therefore encouraged to

  • Prioritise the needs of people with disabilities in national assistance programmes during the lockdown period.
  • Strengthen national legislation and policies on health care in line with the needs of people with disabilities.
  • Identify and eliminate obstacles to accessibility of health-care services by people with disabilities during this period.

Conclusion

Although COVID-19 poses a challenge to the Government to accomplish its mandate of serving the people, Zimbabwe as a country is incapacitated and under resourced to safeguard its citizens from the pandemic, despite the massive exploitation of natural resources which is underway.  As humanity faces this existential threat, Government ought to get its priorities right and ensure national resources are managed efficiently and for the good of the public. Government should establish wide safety nets to cushion citizens from the shock of the pandemic. At this juncture the Zimbabwean Government needs to build trust with its citizens, including but not limited to effective communication and focus on reaching vulnerable communities with requisite information and services. Provision of medical care is a must and those infected should quickly get necessary assistance to save lives.  Facilities set up to support the vulnerable groups and SMEs must not be politicised.


[1] https://www.newzimbabwe.com/bulawayo-to-take-covid-19-patients-to-harare/

[2] https://www.herald.co.zw/coronavirus-600m-for-vulnerable-people/

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