16 January 2013

Zimbabwe: Minister, Top Lawyer Slam Corruption At Deeds Office

THE Deputy Minister of Justice Obert Gutu and the president of the Law Society of Zimbabwe (LSZ) Tinoziva Bere, have slammed what they say is rampant corruption at the Deeds Office despite the existence of a task-force to tackle graft within the State institution.

"There is all pervading corruption not only at the Deeds Office but throughout the justice delivery system. It is a notorious fact that a good number of lawyers are corrupt and some of them are on the forefront of facilitating fraud at the Deeds Office," said Gutu who chairs his ministry's anti-corruption committee.

Bere said while corrupt lawyers were few, their actions poisoned the whole legal fraternity.

"Some lawyers are at the deep end, assisting in processing of fraudulent titles and or sales of property and some bribing officers to accelerate registrations. Some hire officers to be their clerks because they are incompetent. These rotten members are few but their poison is immense and the stick affects all including the majority who are clean," he said.

Bere said judging by the incidences of fake title deeds and stagnation of some of the long submitted property transfers alone, it was evident that the Deeds Office was experiencing severe decay and most lawyers as well as property owners were worried by the development.

Gutu said that a 16-member committee to deal with corruption and mismanagement at the Deeds Office set up last year is still to submit its findings and recommendations.

The task force, established in May last year has members drawn from the LSZ, the Zimbabwe Republic Police, the High Court, the Surveyor General's Office, Deeds Office, the Zimbabwe Revenue Authority, the Estate Agents Council and the Registrar General's Office and is chaired by chief registrar of Deeds and Companies, Fidelis Maredza.

Gutu said a massive anti-corruption awareness campaign was on the cards in partnership with Transparency International Zimbabwe.

He said his ministry has now established a hotline for any member of the public with a complaint or evidence of corruption in the Justice Ministry.

Bere said the LSZ has engaged both the Deeds Office and the Ministry and also offered to raise funds for wholesale reform. He said consensus building on the matter is now complete and his organisation is currently looking for resources for both reform of legislation and transformation of systems, processes and equipment in the Deeds Office.

"We have also adopted zero tolerance of dishonesty among lawyers to weed out the corrupt. We plan to adopt a code of conduct for the profession," said Bere.

He said rampant corruption at the Deeds Office undermines the integrity of the entire property regime and prejudices the public.

Bere said the LSZ's recommendations on countering corruption in the Deeds Office include a review of regulations and processes, recruitment and training of skilled personnel to end the delays (kill the queue and sink the crook), weeding out of unskilled and dishonest personnel, resourcing to automate or convert to IT based processes, restore efficiency as well as reporting dishonest and or incompetent conveyances to the LSZ.

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