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‘Lands ministry haven for corruption cartels’

BY TINASHE KAIRIZA

A GOVERNMENT investigation, whose preliminary findings have been submitted to President Emmerson Mnangagwa, has exposed rampant corruption at the Ministry of Lands, Agriculture, Water and Rural Resettlement, which derailed government’s projects and prejudiced the fiscus of revenue.

The government investigation spans the broad economic spectrum, with a special focus on identifying, exposing and arresting intricate syndicates fuelling graft.

As reported in this publication last week, part of the investigations have also identified top government officials at the Ministry of Mines and Mining Development, who have scuttled foreign direct investment (FDI) into Zimbabwe’s economy by soliciting bribes from potential investors.

According to the probe, Zimbabwe Geological Survey director Forbes Mugumbate and director of research, value-addition and beneficiation in the Mines ministry Tichaona Makuza are accused of allegedly asking for bribes from a South African mining firm Lephalale chairperson Cliff Motsepe and chief operating officer Mashile Mokono.

The duo at the Mines and Mining Development ministry, is accused of asking for bribes during a meeting held with Motsepe and Mokono on March 29, 2021.

In the latest investigation on the Lands, Agriculture, Water and Rural Resettlement ministry, initial findings suggest that the department has degenerated into a “haven of corruption activities”, fuelled by closely knit syndicates with tentacles spreading beyond the country’s porous borders.

A document seen by this publication shows that the fresh investigation implicated top officials at the Agriculture ministry who were enriching themselves through corruption at the expense of key national projects.

“Reference is made to a memorandum from the deputy Director General-Operations of December 2020, wherein it was stated that information was received that the Ministry of Lands, Agriculture, Water and Rural Resettlement has become a haven of corruption activities,” a government investigation report reads.

Subsequently the graft, according to the document, sabotaged “key government projects, thereby prejudicing the state and enriching individuals at the expense of the government coffers”.

The document was generated on February 22, 2021.

A trail of the correspondence seen by this publication shows that a top government official had assigned a department to roll out an operation that would expose the extent of the industrial-scale corruption at the Agriculture ministry.

“The memorandum further called for an exhaustive investigation into the operations of key personnel at the ministry including an elaborate operational plan to expose the rot. The main terms of reference of the operation are: (to) account for the lifestyles of targeted personnel (within) the ministry,” the document reads.

The document emphasises that the “issuance and payment of licenses, permits and fees” was replete with graft, while officials at the ministry were demanding bribes from investors, resulting in capital flight.

It reads: “Preliminary information gathered has revealed that possible corrupt synergies in the issuance and payment of licenses, permits and fees begins from various low-level officers to the directorship level, with complacency at secretarial and ministerial level enabling the rot. The issuance of import and exports permits is also marred with irregularities.

“The syndicates also span all the way to road blocks, and to exit and entry points into Zimbabwe. It is alleged that kickbacks are demanded for the implementation of various projects, a practise which is leading to investor fatigue.”

The report noted that “cabinet reshuffles”, which often result in officials being deployed to new ministries, created a fertile ground for government bureaucrats to ask for bribes from potential investors.

The investigation’s findings were submitted to “Number 1”, a term widely used within the government ranks to refer to the President.

Approached for comment, Agriculture deputy minister Vangelis Haritatos could not explain measures put in place to contain corruption at his ministry.

With the ruling Zanu PF party gripped by factional squabbles supposedly between Vice-President Constantino Chiwenga and Mnangagwa, the document revealed how the internecine fights affected economic revival projects.

“The main terms of reference of the operation are to: investigate the personal and political fights within the party (Zanu PF) which spill over to the ministry thereby affecting key projects,” reads the document, in part.

Zanu PF regards agriculture as a low hanging fruit, whose potential, if realised, could be utilised to boost election prospects during the 2023 polls.

Though Mnangagwa’s administration has vociferously spoken against economic saboteurs, the problem persists.

According to the Agriculture ministry, some of the programmes under the portfolio include Pfumvudza, the Accelerated Irrigation Rehabilitation Programme, the Belarus Farm Mechanisation Programme, the John Deere Farm Mechanisation Programme and Local Manufacture of Farm Implements.

Over the years, state enterprises under the ministry have been hamstrung by corruption and mismanagement.

Some of the parastatals include CSC, Agriculture Marketing Authority (AMA), AgriBank, Agriculture Research Council (ARC), Grain Marketing Board (GMB) and Pig Industry Board (PIB).

During former President Robert Mugabe’s time, the ministry was cast into the vortex of corruption scandals after it emerged that the Reserve Bank of Zimbabwe splurged millions of United States dollars in loans to senior Zanu PF and government officials that were never paid under the farm mechanisation programme.

Lending details of the farm mechanisation programme, once a closely guarded government secret only came to light after Mugabe was pushed out of power in 2017.

The bad loans were taken over by the government and passed on to the taxpayer under the Debt Assumption Act of 2015.

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