A group of City Councillors in Harare are planning a legal bid to halt the construction of a mall in Borrowdale, with more questions being asked about the legality of the agreement that led to the land being handed over as a building site.
The mall project has been shrouded in controversy and marred by public protest, with conservationists leading the call for the building site to be moved elsewhere. Currently, the plans are to build the mall in a wetlands area of Borrowdale, which conservation groups have warned will have a serious environmental impact.
The Elected Councillors Association of Zimbabwe is now also planning to step in, amid reports of shady deals and corruption. The Association has finalised papers it plans to lodge with the Administrative Court to halt the construction, as part of a wider investigation into unscrupulous business dealings in Harare involving Local Government Minister Ignatius Chombo.
The Association's Worship Dumba told SW Radio Africa on Thursday that the matter goes back to a 2008 deal secured by Chombo for the construction of the Harare Airport Road. That project saw an agreement being signed by Chombo and Augur Investments, the company now also involved in the mall project.
The land now being used for the mall in Borrowdale is understood to be part of the payment plan for the airport road, which was priced at US$80 million. That figure is seventy million more than what independent estimates pegged the cost of the road to be. A councillors investigation in 2010 meanwhile said that the agreement formed part of a scam to "fleece the council out of millions of dollars and vast tracts of prime land."
Dumba told SW Radio Africa that the irregularities are vast, including the fact that Augur Investments was a company set up by Chombo back in 2008. Among the companies board of directors are Harare City Council Town Clerk Tendai Mahachi, and the director of urban planning services Psychology Chiwanga, who are all Chombo placements. Dumba said this is a clear "conflict of interest."
He also explained how the proper procedures for the selling of council land were also not followed in the deal for the mall, including the fact that the land was seriously undervalued.
"It is very queer that the land which is worth 15 dollars per square meter was sold at just three dollars fifty per square metre," Dumba explained.
He added that other legal requirements, like residents being legally allowed to register their complaints about council land plans, were not followed. He said these procedural problems, plus the clear conflict of interests in the deal were enough to table a legal challenge.
"We think it is best that that the administrative court looks into it and brings everyone to book who is involved in shoddy deals. Our paperwork is finalised and we are waiting for a council decision on the future of the mall before deciding to file the application," Dumba said
The Harare City Council is still to give its full approval for the project at a meeting in the city next Tuesday. Already, Harare Mayor Muchadeyi Masunda has given the plans the 'thumbs up' while the council's environment committee has said it approves of the plan.