THE seven-member Commission of Inquiry into the acquisition of State land in and around urban areas since 2005 that took their oaths of office on Thursday has an unenviable task.
Land barons came to the fore over the past 13 years. They engaged themselves in some kind of cutthroat competition of gobbling up huge tracts of prime land and selling it at high prices to desperate home seekers.
One of the easiest ways to get rich super quick in recent years was through identifying a vacant piece of State land, checking official documents to see if no one holds title to that land and, through a high level connection in the Ministry of Local Government, Public Works and National Housing, securing title to it, subdividing it and the next morning advertisements for residential stands would be all over the media.
In many cases, and contrary to laid down procedures, the land was sold before any servicing was done. No one would touch the barons because they had the “right,” corrupt connections in high places.
In other cases, the land was sold to more than one person. Disputes routinely occurred, a number of them still unresolved. In the end, one person won and the other lost but the constant in all these is that the land barons made millions selling illegally acquired State land.
Properties were built on top of sewer lines, in suburbs that are without water, roads, electricity and so on. Many of the barons gave their suburbs well-meaning names, often of national heroes —Joshua Nkomo, Sally Mugabe and Herbert Chitepo — to ward off possible criticism and investigations.
The time for all these shenanigans to end is nigh.
Former President Robert Mugabe appointed the commission last year but resigned before inaugurating it.
Justice Tendai Uchena chairs the Commission whose other members are Mr Andrew Mlalazi, Mr Stephen Chakaipa, Dr Tarisai Mutangi, Dr Heather Chingono, Ms Vimbai Nyemba and Ms Petronella Musarurwa. Mrs Virginia Mabiza, the permanent secretary in the Ministry of Justice, Legal and Parliamentary Affairs, is its secretary.
“The work of the Commission is to inquire fully, impartially and efficiently and report to the President so that’s exactly what we will do,” Justice Uchena said.
The commission of inquiry is expected to complete its work in September with an option of a further three months extension, with a comprehensive report expected to be produced and presented to President Emmerson Mnangagwa at the end of the inquiry.
The Commission’s terms of reference shall be:
(i) To investigate and identify all State land in and around urban areas that was acquired and allocated to the Ministry of Local Government, Public Works and National Housing for urban development since 2005;
(ii) To investigate and ascertain the status of such land in terms of ownership, occupation and development; (c) to investigate methods of acquisition and/or allocation by current occupants and owners of such land;
(iii) To investigate and ascertain the actors involved in allocations, occupation and use of such land;
(v) To conduct visitations where necessary, summon witnesses, record proceedings, minute testimonies and document, consider and manage all information gathered in order to arrive at appropriate findings and recommendations to the President;
(vi) To investigate any other matter which the Commission of Inquiry may deem appropriate and relevant to the inquiry; to report to the President in writing, the result of the inquiry.
Justice Uchena’s committee must, as they say, hit the ground running to unearth the obvious corruption that occurred in many of the land deals.
We look forward to the commission’s report on the task it has been given.
Justice Uchena and his team can expect some frustrations here and there, possible intimidation here and there as the land barons attempt to frustrate their work so they don’t get exposed. He must not allow himself to be intimidated by the corrupt who looted State land. Everyone who grabbed land must be investigated regardless of who they are and what station they hold now, or held in the old order.
He has a mandate to discharge and has the support of President Mnangagwa and most importantly, he has the undivided support of all well-meaning, law-abiding people of this country.
But if we look at the commitment that the President is showing, his efforts to curb corruption, we don’t see any of the land barons attempting to put up a fight to frustrate progress. Even they now know that the age of impunity is gone; it ended sometime in November; we are now in a new order which abhors and punishes corruption.
We look forward to everyone who benefited unjustly from the acquisition and sale of our land being named and shamed. Naming and shaming must not be the end of it all. The corrupt must be punished severely. Such punishment includes police and other law enforcement agents using the recommendations of the Uchena Commission as a basis of carrying out their own investigations followed by arrests, appearance in the courts of law and jail.
Also we expect restitution to be among the punitive measures to be adopted in cases where desperate land seekers lost out.