Land scandal rocks new city

Sydney Kawadza Mashonaland West Bureau Chief
Senior officials at the Ministry of Local Government, Public Works and National Housing head office have been nailed for interfering with the allocation of land in favour of their cronies in the lucrative Mt Hampden area, where Government is constructing the New Parliament Building and intends to establish a new city.

Former Zvimba Rural District Council chief executive officer Mr Peter Hlohla revealed the alleged fraudulent allocation and distribution of land in the area when he appeared before the Commission of Inquiry into Urban State Land since 2005.

The commission, which is in Mashonaland West, held the inquiry at the Chinhoyi University of Technology Hotel on Thursday last week.

Chaired by Justice Tendai Uchena, the commission started its public hearings in Mashonaland West on Wednesday last week, with officials from various Government departments and councils revealing massive interference from senior officers from the Ministry of Local Government, Public Works and National Housing.

While other officials where evasive and failed to name the alleged perpetrators, Mr Hlohla, who resigned from his post two weeks ago, gave the names of some of the alleged culprits.

He fingered principal director responsible for rural authorities Mr Christopher Shumba and principal director of physical planning Mrs Ethel Mlalazi, among senior Government officials, for manipulating the system in favour of cronies.

Mr Hlohla said Mr Shumba flouted Government procedures in favour of Delatfin Investments whose partnership with the council had been cancelled over a number of procedural deficiencies

Delatfin Investments is owned by Engineer Felix Munyaradzi and had gone into partnership with the Zvimba RDC to develop low-density stands at Haydon Farm in Mt Hampden.

Mt Hampden is where Government intends to move its offices when construction of the new Parliament Building is completed.

“Sometime in 2011, the Zvimba RDC resolved to partner a developer in servicing the land at Haydon Farm prior to the acquisition of the same,” said Mr Hlohla. “The farm initially sat on 744 hectares, which is also the description purposes of the available land.

“Council, in partnership with Delatfin, produced a layout plan covering 266 hectares which was land available after we realised that the other area was for the jatropha project measuring 295ha and other land reserved for Mr (Lovemore) Kurotwi.

“The land reserved for Mr Kurotwi included 70ha for Cornway College and the Diamond Processing Centre (30 hectares). After the agreement was reached with Delatfin, we came up with a plan with about 1 000 low-density stands with other amenities, two institutional stands, one for primary and secondary school.”

The partnership also saw the opening of a bank account which had two signatories from both parties.

“The account was opened with about $4 000 to $5 000, but nothing was ever deposited into that account and nothing is known about what happened to that account,” said Mr Hlohla.

He indicated that Delatfin had initially been overlooked for the project when it went to tender because it had no proof of equipment to sustain the project, while it also had offshore accounts.

“The order to go into partnership with them came from above (head office),” said Mr Hlohla. “However, when we went into the project, the partner failed to deliver, raising curiosity from council.

“The partner also approached council for the right to dispose of his share of stands so that they can service the land and again council was not amused by this.”

Delatfin had a 60 percent stake in the partnership, with the other going to council and stands reserved for commonage.

“Eng Munyaradzi wanted to dispose of his share of 60 percent, but he ended up developing a certain area where he had allocated and collected money from some of the beneficiaries,” said Mr Hlohla.

He alleged that Delatfin grabbed 120ha of land that was not part of the project without the approval of the Zvimba RDC, resulting in a protracted dispute.

Mr Hlohla told the Commission that Delatfin developed and allocated stands on an area reserved for the schools, escalating its dispute with the council.

“In March last year, a meeting was convened at the ministry’s boardroom in Harare to address the allocation of land at Haydon Farm with a view of correcting the anomaly,” he said.

“However, the meeting irregularly recommended that the Department of State Land should write a formal letter to Delatfin Investments and regularise the allocation of the disputed 120 hectares.”

Among the officials who attended the meeting, according to Mr Hlohla, were Mr Shumba, Mrs Mlalazi and acting deputy director State Land Department Ms Kristina Koswa Chikotera.

Mrs Mlalazi has since left her position in the ministry.

Mr Hlohla was challenged by the commissioners on the basis of his allegations, but insisted that council, as the custodians of the land, was in charge of the area, not officials from head office.

“Zvimba RDC recommends the plans and designs that come through their partners, but in this case Mrs Mlalazi insisted that everything was above board on the recommendations of her officers in her office,” he said.

“Mr Shumba also showed some interest in the matter, while presiding over cases which were not under his jurisdiction. In normal circumstances, council recommends approval of all plans.

“In this instance, council had resolved to cancel the partnership with and allocation of land to Delatfin, but our head office reversed that decision.”

Mr Hlohla alleged that Eng Munyaradzi enjoyed a cordial relationship with senior officials in Harare with unabated access to information from Mr Shumba’s office.

“I even heard of my pending suspension from council way before the letter arrived, through people who claimed to have received information from Eng Munyaradzi,” he said.

Mr Hlohla revealed how two councillors were dismissed after they were bribed with vehicles and a stand each by Eng Munyaradzi.

He told the commission that Mr Shumba derived his power from his political position, while he was a former provincial administrator in Mashonaland West province.

In her submissions to the commission on Wednesday last week, Mashonaland West provincial physical planning officer Mrs Sekai Vivian Matimba revealed how orders were, in some instances, directed from Harare to fast-track applications.

Justice Uchena had sought clarity on whether or not the provincial office originated the documents when Mrs Matimba said her office was ordered to submit their approval for documents originating from Harare.

“The normal procedure is to submit the plans through the province,” she said. “If it’s a local authority or a private developer, they submit to the province and then we submit it to head office for approval.

“But in this case we were told that the submission and technical input that is normally done at provincial level had already been done by head office.”

All parties to the dispute are expected to appear before the commission.

President Mnangagwa appointed the commission following the mushrooming of illegal settlements in most urban areas, most of which were products of  the illegal sale of State land by land barons.