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Land audit in shambles

MELODY CHIKONO/TINASHE MAKICHI
THE country’s land audit exercise is in shambles with latest information indicating that the government is planning to conduct another costly audit to cover 100 000 farms after the last audit made shocking relations of corruption and serious irregularities in the redistribution of land.

Top government officials told the Zimbabwe Independent that the second phase of the audit, which was rolled out in June 2019, implicated a number of provincial lands officers in unscrupulous land deals, which have since stoked concern in government and anger among resettled farmers over double allocations.

The National Agriculture Land audit, which was conducted in phases starting in 2018 in the country’s 10 provinces to rationalise farm ownership and sizes countrywide, is a costly and time-consuming exercise.

To date, none of the land audits conducted thus far have been made public.

The latest development comes as the government discovered that lands officers from both the Ministry Lands, Agriculture, Water, Fisheries and Rural Resettlement and the Land Commission have been on a crusade of parcelling out land without following proper procedures.Some provincial and district lands officers have since been transferred.

The level of indiscipline in the distribution of land reached alarming levels when lands officers disregarded original land maps for certain farms, especially in Mashonaland East and came up with new maps to parcel out land for personal benefit.

The discoveries made in the last audit saw the ministry ordering provincial lands officers to stop issuing new offer letters.

It was also discovered that some lands officers were acting in connivance with village heads without approval from the head office.

“If you go to various land offices right now, you will be shocked by what you will discover. Some offer letters and plot numbers no longer exist. Double allocation is now the order of the day,” a source close to the developments said.

“While the officers are getting rich pickings from bribes, the farmers will be fighting on the ground. Provincial magistrate courts are now overwhelmed by cases of land disputes.”

Last year, the government concluded an audit of 16 000 farms, which revealed irregularities in the redistribution of land taken from white commercial farmers in 2000 and allocated to the indigenous farmers.

Government will conduct another audit for 100 000 farms to weed out corruption.

Low agricultural output has been attributed to fraudulent allocations and other gross irregularities where land has been given to non-deserving applicants.

Lands, Agriculture, Water, Fisheries and Rural Resettlement deputy minister Vangelis Haritatos said the government was embarking on the audit of 100 000 farms.

Lands deputy minister Vangelis Haritatos

Issues of double allocation and multiple farm ownership are at the centre of the controversy, he added.

“The initial land audit was 16 000 farms but now it has gone to 100 000 farms. The usual issues that came out in the first land audit like double allocation and multiple farm ownership also came out. It’s an issue our ministry is committed to solve,”Haritatos said.

“That is why we are looking at farm sizes, (which was another issue) some farms were over maximum sizes. There are a number of issues that the Land Commission is looking at,” he said.

“The issues are not new and already, with the first 16 000 farms, we are implementing recommendations.

“The government policy is clear. One man, one farm and any mistakes done by the districts must be fixed. If people have issues they should come forward and report,” Haritatos said.

There are further revelations that some land officers have been fraudulently parcelling out farms through issuance of offer letters signed by a former minister in a scam that has since prejudiced a number of desperate land seekers.

However, Haritatos could not comment on the issue of ministry officials involved in the scandal. He referred questions to minister Anxious Masuka.

Documents seen by the Independent show that land applicants were given fake offer letters bearing the signature of a former cabinet minister.

Land seekers were made to pay money ranging from US$500 to US$3 000 depending on the farm size.

The offer letters seen by this publication are backdated to 2008 on a government of Zimbabwe letterhead under the ministry of Lands and Resettlement located Block 2 Makombe Building in Harare.

Makombe Building in Harare

The letter can be mistaken for a genuine offer letter but it does not have an official stamp.

“The offer is made in terms of the Agricultural Land Resettlement Act (Chapter 20:09 whose provision you are advised to acquaint yourself with,” reads part of the fake offer letter.

“Conditions that go with the offer letter are attached. If you accept this offer you are required to declare any state land you may have been leasing for agricultural purposes or whether you have been allocated agricultural land under any government scheme.”

Sources close to the development say this land scam also involves ministry officials cascading down to rural district councils.

Investigations by the Independent show that no such offer letter exists in the government database.

Agriculture, Lands and Resettlement permanent secretary John Bhasera did not respond to questions yesterday.

The investigations also unearthed that a team of top officers manning provincial and district lands offices have been carrying out their own private land audit. In the process, they identify vacant land to sell for their personal benefit.

During the process, a lot of farmers have seen their land either being downsized or re-allocated without following proper procedure.

The syndicate is a well-oiled machine consisting of headmen and traditional chiefs working in connivance with some of lands officers.

The snap investigation by the Independent revealed that this criminal syndicate has taken advantage of the rising demand in farm land to fleece unsuspecting land seekers.

It is estimated that the Agriculture ministry has over 100 000 land seekers on the waiting list and the officials are preying on them as the demand for farm land skyrockets.

The coming audit, therefore, is expected to address some of the issues that were identified in the last audit.

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