Land scandal rocks Mugabe backyard

PRESIDENT Robert Mugabe’s home district is at the centre of a massive land-grabbing and corruption scandal by land barons working with local authorities, gathering a dark cloud over government plans to establish a new capital city in the district, a detailed state-commissioned investigation has shown.

By Bernard Mpofu

The new probe into the goings-on at Zvimba Rural District Council, an area which includes parts of Harare’s Westgate and Snake Park, has exposed a series of irregularities, corruption, flouting of tender procedures, bribery and lack of accountability on new housing projects within the precincts of Harare.

The explosive findings revealed by an investigation commissioned by Rural Development minister Abednico Ncube titled Report on the Investigation of Zvimba Rural District Council: Mashonaland West 2016.

Ncube assigned a committee to investigate the goings-on at Zvimba Rural District Council, including the abuse of tenders at the local authority; how the local authority was handling land allocations in Sandton Park residential area; corporate governance issues; progress taken to establish an office in the Snake Park area and how the local authority is managing its public-private partnerships.

The committee was also specifically tasked with establishing how Zvimba Rural District Council resolved a dispute over lot 2A of Rainham Diamond Centre stand.

The committee comprised Mike Mazai (chairperson), Abigail Mandizha, Morris Chigoma, Phibeon Nyamande and Kelvin Mayoyo.

The investigation revealed several irregularities after the tendering of Sandton Park project (next to Westgate) on Haydon Farm to Delatfin Private Limited, which is run by businessman and land developer Felix Munyaradzi. The developer was supposed to be paid by way of 60% of the stands in the area concerned and the local authority would get the remaining 40%.

This is the same district earmarked for the country’s new administrative capital and a new Parliament building.
The probe also unearthed that the developer at Sandton (Delatfin Pvt Ltd) is three years behind schedule in completing the project and is not giving attention to the area given to the authority.

“Developers have resorted to divide-and-rule on councillors whom they were offering bribes in the form of residential stands and cars to influence their alignment at vote in favour of the developer,” the report says.

“This would be in respect to variations to contracts and inflated claims for expenditures purportedly incurred. There is evidence that some members of the executive used to and are still conniving with the developers to influence councillors to pass decisions in the developers’ favour.”

Contacted for comment, Munyaradzi denied the allegations against him, saying this was a smear campaign by people who want to illegally grab Haydon Farm.

“I have no issues with anyone. There is a big fight over land which was allocated to other players in a tendered project. That is where all these issues are coming from. My legal counsel is actually working on this matter,” he said in an interview.

“Delatfin is not happy because part of the 744ha we were allocated to after winning a tender in 2011 has been allocated to other players in violation of the contract. We are surprised on why we have not had access to this (investigation) report, yet it raises serious allegations against Delatfin.”

In February this year, Delatfin wrote to the Local Government ministry querying why part of its project land had been allocated to Sunplass Pvt Ltd (100ha), Dougspace Investments (60ha), Leengate Investments (120ha) and the Jatropha Plant (10ha).

“Our client felt that there could be abuse of office by council and the ministry’s officials and possible corruption. This is so because the tender process was very clear and transparent . . . No basis has been laid out for digging into the 744,56 hectares properly allocated to our client through tender,” wrote Bvekwa Legal Practice in a letter dated February 14.

The report also shows land-grabbing in the district had prejudiced Zvimba rural district council and Treasury of millions of dollars. “There are also serious problems of land grabbing, unauthorised settlement and shoddy servicing of road infrastructure in the Snake Park area. It is critical that the ministry intervenes to sort out the land development problems in conjunction with Department of Physical Planning,” the report says.

Munyaradzi, the report adds, resorted to using corrupt means for councillors to support him in passing resolutions in his favour at the expense of council.

“Acting upon a request by the developer (Delatfin Pvt Ltd) to withdraw some stands from his share for capital injection purposes, under the former chief executive Mr Shacky Siamayambo gave Delatfin almost his full share of stands from the planned area,” it says.

“However, instead of opening a bank account to deposit the proceeds from the sale of the stands for transparency purposes as was initially agreed upon, the developer (Munyaradzi or Delatfin) had to spend the money at his own will without opening a joint bank account with council. Despite being given his entire share of stands to raise capital for the completion of the project, the developer has failed to inject the required capital into the project.”

Tenders at the local authority, the probe says, were not being properly managed under the former Zvimba rural district council chief executive, especially those involving the servicing of land. Siamayambo resigned in 2014. “The developer at Sandton (Delatfin Pvt Ltd) is three years behind schedule in completing the project and is not giving attention to the area given to the local authority. He has resorted to using unorthodox means for councillors to support him in passing resolutions in his favour at the expense of council,” the report says.

“The chief executive officer of Delatfin Mr. Munyaradzi when interviewed alleged that he had all the documentation of how he was given the 240 ha. However, he failed to produce meaningful evidence to the team other than the letter he claimed to have been written by the current Zvimba Rural District Council chief executive Mr. Peter Hlohla when he was still a planner saying 120ha has been set aside for his future claims of variation, a letter which the chief executive officer claimed was not authentic.”

Zvimba rural district council, which is now demanding US$10 million in arrears owed by Delatfin for failing to meet its part of the bargain, is in partnership with the property firm. Haydon Farm measures 744,56 hectares and council is in partnership with the company for the first 276ha. The agreement is on a 60:40 sharing ratio between the developer and council respectively and the area was to be developed in phases for all planned area.

“Both parties deviated from the contract by giving Delatfin his total share before meaningful development on the ground had been done. The deviation was driven by the developers’ lack of capital to continue with the project to completion,” it says.

Following the probe, Ncube suspended councillors Norbert Mapepa and Jemeni Sifara for improper conduct after they failed to declare their conflict of interests.

The report shows that another developer, J.S Omar, had settled almost 3 000 people illegally in the Snake Park area and is using private inspectors to approve plans and inspect buildings, in the process usurping council powers and depriving the local authority of revenue from plans approval and inspection fees.