LOCAL Government minister Ignatius Chombo is reportedly under investigation by the President’s Office over the unprocedural construction of a business complex, which will accommodate the CBZ Bank in Pomona, among many other dodgy deals in which he is allegedly involved.
By Elias Mambo
Sources said this week the President’s Office — referring to the Central Intelligence Organisation — is now probing all allegations of corruption in which Chombo has been implicated. This is said to have been finally triggered by Chombo’s reversal of Harare town clerk Tendai Mahachi’s suspension, and scrutiny following his messy divorce with his wife Marian which laid bare his unexplained vast wealth for a public official.
Following the exposé on disproportionate salaries in parastatals, public enterprises and local authorities, Harare City Council suspended Mahachi for failure to discharge his duties and refusing to furnish councillors with the salary schedule, defying a council resolution. The suspension came after reports that Mahachi and 18 managers at Town House were gobbling close to US$500 000 monthly while workers got peanuts and went for months without pay.
However, Chombo reinstated Mahachi after only three days of his suspension by pressuring Harare mayor Bernard Manyenyeni. The Office of the President and Cabinet, which is spearheading the crackdown on corruption, was reportedly unhappy with that.
“There has now been internal communication in the President’s Office for a dossier to be compiled on Chombo’s involvement with Augur Investments and other issues,” a highly-placed official said this week.
Presidential spokesperson George Charamba could neither confirm nor deny the investigation when contacted for comment yesterday.
“The President’s Office does actually investigate, but has requested all the information to do with salaries and corruption so that it can formulate a policy framework after which it will hand over everything to other arms of government for the investigations,” Charamba said.
Former prime minister Morgan Tsvangirai once urged President Robert Mugabe to allow Chombo to be investigated for alleged corruption over several issues.
Sources said even though nothing was done in the past, the Mahachi debacle seems to have triggered the current probe. Mahachi was a director in Sunshine Company, a Harare City Council joint venture with Augur which is running a number projects in the city.
During investigations a few years ago into the US$80 million Airport Road construction saga, Harare city councillors uncovered evidence that the controversial Estonian company, Augur, was being used as a conduit to fleece the municipality of millions of dollars and vast tracts of prime land.
Chombo, senior council employees and a caretaker commission which ran council affairs in 2008 were implicated. Copies of the council report compiled after the investigation were sent to Tsvangirai and parliament for further investigation. Council also threatened to approach the Anti-Corruption Commission and police.
Speculation of corruption was fuelled when, during investigations, it emerged that a company owned by Chombo, Harvest Net Investments, shared the same address as Augur at 62 Quorn Avenue, Mt Pleasant, Harare.
The Airport Road deal, which has always been shrouded in controversy, was signed in 2008 and the project should have been completed in 2010.
So far, Augur has only completed a small stretch of the road, which it claimed cost US$20 million although the total project cost was put at US$80 million.
Even though Augur officials denied any wrongdoing, the issue has refused to go away, especially after it also turned out the company had no capacity to do the project, and had sub-contracted a South African company, Power Construction SA.
After Augur was awarded the tender, it formed a joint venture company, Sunshine Developments, with the city council in which council had a 30% stake while Augur held 70%.
Besides the Airport Road, some of the projects under Augur include the Pomona Business Complex and Bluffhill development which, according to the Harare City Council, were approved in violation of the Regional Town and Country Planning Act of 1996.
It has also now emerged that City of Harare Highlands District Office had in 2012 called for an investigation into the construction of a multi-million-dollar commercial business complex in Pomona.
According to a letter to the urban planning director Psychology Chiwanga by the Highlands District Office on April 26 2012, Chombo gave the go-ahead for the complex to be built without council approval.
In the letter, the district manager said the construction of the business complex was not above board.
“Subsequent to a site visit made on 23/03/2012, a recent follow-up site visit on the 17th of April 2012 revealed that the Chinese developers are constructing a commercial building which I am informed accommodates CBZ Bank, etc, on a stand zoned residential according to Borrowdale Local Development Plan Number 32,” reads part of the letter.
The letter also says the developers “failed to produce approved building plans on the site” and called for an urgent investigation “before the building reaches unstoppable construction levels as was the case with Semi Levy Village building.”
City of Harare sources said the construction was done unprocedurally.
“In the process of administering the land use planning process, City of Harare is guided by the layers of rules and regulations in order that operations are transparent, fair and also protect and promote public interest,” the source said.
The sources also said most of the developments that were mushrooming in and around Harare were not in line with the council by-laws as expressed and executed through the operative town planning development control frameworks. Other projects which still hang in the balance include Borrowdale Millennium Park Development and Cluster Housing Development in Bluffhill.
The Borrowdale Millennium Park Development is expected to be built on an open space and recreation reservation area. Reservations are a type of land classification that freeze development to a specific use in that area. Any conversion is done under Section 49 of the Regional Town and Country Planning Act 1996. In this case, the minister apparently did not exercise his due authority to allow the construction.
Questions have also been raised over Chombo’s wealth. In their divorce papers, Marian claimed she and Chombo owned businesses, farms, homes and residential stands in Harare’s leafy suburbs of Mt Pleasant, Alexandra Park, Greendale, Borrowdale and other towns around the country, luxury cars and vast tracts of land.
Efforts to get comment from Chombo were fruitless as his phone went unanswered while a text message was not responded to.