Corrupt Chombo suspends those who accused him

Ignatius Chombo, the mega-rich local government minister who is under fire over alleged improper acquisition of vast municipal land and properties around the country, has fired and suspended councillors investigating him for suspected land grab scams.

Four councillors have been fired, and two who were at the forefront of probing Chombo were suspended for different reasons late last year. This has sparked a fierce fight for control of the Harare City Council between Chombo and the councillors under the umbrella of the Combined Harare Residents Association.

Prime Minister Morgan Tsvangirai’s Movement for Democratic Change (MDC) has joined the fray and accused Chombo of abusing his powers to stop corruption probes and also to reduce the number of MDC councillors.

Chombo, who was a poor university lecturer more than a decade ago, has acquired more than 100 houses, stands and other properties in prime areas of the country’s cities and in Harare since he became a minister in the late 1990s. Most of his properties are revealed in court documents filed concerning his divorce from his wife, Marian.

Harare city councillors accuse Chombo of using his influence to illegally grab land in affluent suburbs like Borrowdale and Avondale. In March last year, a special investigations committee, led by councillor Warship Dumba, conducted a probe into the land-grab scandals in Harare. It implicated Chombo and businessman Phillip Chiyangwa in the theft of prime land in Borrowdale, Gunhill and Avondale. Both claim to be related to President Robert Mugabe. The councillors reported the matter to the police but no action was taken – the norm with cases involving people close to Mugabe. Last month Chombo, using powers vested in him through the Urban Councils Act, fired four councillors elected on the MDC ticket. He accused them of illegally grabbing houses of Zanu-PF supporters.

Chombo then suspended Dumba – who is spearheading investigations which implicated the minister in land thefts – and councillor Casper Tapera, who is also part of the investigating committee.

In his suspension letter, Chombo said they abused council funds when they went on an official trip to Kariba. The suspension letter, dated December 15, reads: "During the period of suspension you shall not conduct any council business within or outside council premises, and you shall not be eligible to receive any form of remuneration from council."

According to Zanu-PF insiders, Chombo is on a crusade to silence the MDC ahead of elections set for an unannounced date later this year.

"Investigations on corruption will obviously implicate Zanu-PF officials including Chombo himself, so he is eager to ensure that whoever comes up with such probes must be silenced. Remember we are in an election year and if reports of corruption keep coming up, they damage Zanu-PF," the insider said.

Dumba dismissed the suspension as mere malice by Chombo. He said he and Tapera would approach the High Court this coming week to seek a reversal of their suspensions.

The suspensions have irked some Harare residents, who have issued a statement attacking the decision. Part of their statement reads: "As the residents of Harare we are alarmed at the fact that Minister Chombo can be allowed to abuse his authority by suspending the councillors who have presented to the police documentary evidence suggesting criminal conduct on his part.

"We are further alarmed by the fact that the Zimbabwe Republic Police has taken no action on the allegations against Minister Chombo, which are backed by documentary evidence, some nine months after the report was made."

The MDC last week issued a statement, which partly reads: "He (Chombo) plans to have a go at others he considers a threat to his political lifeline. The pattern is the same in other towns and cities – all designed to protect his vast interests and a personal fortune."

Chombo was not available for comment – officials at his office said he was still on vacation.