7 December 2012

Zimbabwe: Council Shuts Dept Over Graft

HARARE City Council has closed its valuation and estate management department and stopped all land valuations and issuing of leases to businesses.

This follows Thursday's suspension of workers on allegations of illegal allocation of land to car sales in the city.

Council spokesperson Mr Leslie Gwindi said more departments faced closure if investigations linked them to the illegal allocation of space to car sales.

The city has roped in the police to help investigate at least 27 workers from the closed department who have been suspended over the corruption allegations.

As part of widening the investigations, council is inviting car sales operators who could have lost money to council officials to come forward.

"As part of the ongoing crackdown on illegal car sales, illegal billboards and vending, a number of irregularities in the division (city valuer and estate management) have come to light.

"This has led council to suspend operations in this division with immediate effect. Council urges customers to bear with us while we clear these inconsistencies."

Mr Gwindi said the department would resume operations after the investigations.

"This exercise is transparent and needs to redress the imbalances that obtain. We value the residents' co-operation in this respect," he said."Some people might be afraid to come out for fear of being labelled accomplices, but information which they give us might be of their benefit."

Mr Gwindi said in some cases, council officials were issuing expired leases to the dealers.

"They duplicated the leases and in some cases you would find a car dealer with a 2009 lease this year," he said.

Some car dealers claimed to have paid council officials between US$2 000 and US$3 000 for land to set up their business.

"The amounts they paid were much above those they should have paid if they were to follow the proper channels," Mr Gwindi said.

"Council has lost a lot of revenue because of these car dealers and we are not going to rest until every car sale is accountable."

Mr Gwindi said illegal car sales mushroomed in the past two years and it had been difficult for council to regularise them.

"We were outnumbered by then," he said.

"The rate at which we were making them accountable and the rate they were building did not match and this resulted in the proliferation.

"Apart from that, there were cases of resistance and everyone knows that we have a case at the courts where someone threatened our officers with a gun."

Mr Gwindi said some members of the municipal police contributed to the delay in demolishing the illegal car sales and garages.

"We now question the behaviour because there were areas where they were instructed to go and destroy, but they ended up skipping some car sales and demolishing others," he said.

Acting City Treasurer Mr Stanley Ndemera said not all officials in the department were guilty, but suspending all of them would allow for smooth investigations.

"The suspensions are simply for facilitating investigations and we are aware that some of them are clean and will be exonerated," he said.

"No one should interfere with investigations and no one is allowed to visit their offices. In fact, we have changed the keys to those offices so that no one has access to the paperwork."

Government gave council up to December 31 to remove all illegal car sales and garages.

The directive came after it emerged that only one car sale out of the 200 dotted around Harare was licensed.

Council should also publish all illegal car sales and garages by December 20.

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