Zimbabwe: 'Smelly' Project Chokes Gweru City Engineers

Gweru City Council (GCC) has embarked on an investigation to fish out the local authority's rogue employees who were involved in corrupt activities in the illegal development of a vast residential suburb owned by businessperson Smelly Dube.

On the other hand, the Justice Tendai Uchena-led land commission has been pursuing Dube to find out how she obtained state land for the construction of Woodlands Park and other residential suburbs she owns in the Midlands.

Early this year, The Standard in conjunction with Information for Development Trust (IDT), unearthed irregularities in Dube's development of Woodlands Park.

These include failure to obtain a mandatory Environmental Impact Assessment document from the Environmental Management Agency (EMA) and a permit from Vungu Rural District Council that owns the land on which the suburb, which now accommodates about 15 000 people, is located.

The investigation also revealed that GCC,which is currently providing water and sewer services, was never consulted on the project or paid any cent and is grudgingly providing the amenities in order to avoid an acute humanitarian disaster such as outbreak of diseases like cholera and typhoid.

In a follow-up exercise, it has been discovered that GCC is beginning to show its teeth in dealing with Dube and her alleged accomplices inside the local authority, while the land commission has been poking holes on suspected corrupt activities by Dube.

In cracking the whip against its workers suspected of involved in corruption at Dube's Woodlands Park, GCC has suspended an engineer Thomas Kunaka on suspicion that he facilitated the certification.

Kunaka is accused of pocketing $40 000 from Dube's company, River Valley Properties.

Water engineer Denford Maphosa has also been suspended under similar circumstances.

The two reportedly contravened provisions of the Urban Councils Act Chapter 29:15 that prescribes punishment for an employee who "solicits, exacts or accepts or agrees to accept or attempts to obtain any fee or reward outside official remuneration for a service he or she renders".

The law also prohibits employees from negotiating or entering into a contract with a client with authorisation from the council and allows for dismissal from work.

Vimbai Chingwaramuse, the new council spokesperson, confirmed the suspension of Kunaka and Maphosa.

"The two have been brought before a hearing, but the matter has not yet been concluded," she said.

She, however, declined to furnish The Standard with the detailed summary of charges against the two workers.

GCC deputy mayor Cleopas Shiri said the local authority was coming hard against corrupt officers.

"Corruption is a very serious vice that we, as the new council, have been very tough in speaking against it," he said.

"So in this case, where our employees have been accused of corruption, we have told the management, led by the town clerk (Elizabeth Gwatipedza), to ensure they get to the bottom of the matter."

The city's management team is expected to present its findings and recommendations to councillors, who will make binding decisions.

According to sources at town house, more employees who were involved in corruption involving the Woodlands Park scandal are set to face the music.

Robson Manatse, the director of engineering, revealed that his department did not have prerequisite documents for Dube's Woodlands housing development project and had since written to her requesting to be furnished with the papers.

"Before any housing development project has taken place, there is need for submission of engineering designs to council for approval by the local authority," he said.

"However, we do not have these for Woodlands Park. We have since communicated to the developer concerning that issue.

"The challenges that occur if no such approved designs are available are the ones being experienced at Woodlands, where, for example, there is no designated space for schools or health facilities such as clinics and hospitals.

"The roads are not easily trafficable while they are not tarred and there are no public lights in the suburb."

Dube has, however, insisted that the development of Woodlands Park was above board.

The Justice Uchena-led Zimbabwe Land Commission subpoenaed River Valley directors to appear before it during hearings held in Gweru to give evidence on how the company acquired state land in Vungu and in Shurugwi where it has housing projects.

Suspicions are that the company acquired the state land illegally and went on to parcel out stands while collecting money from home-seekers.

However, Dube snubbed the hearings on three occasions citing ill-health.

The commission unearthed cases where the company paid various amounts to government officials and state media journalists under unclear circumstances, believed to be for purposes of protecting its interests.

Zimbabwe Land Commission spokesperson Virginia Mabhiza confirmed that the independent body is pursuing Dube.

"It is true that the commission of inquiry into the sale of urban state land was in the Midlands province for the whole of June 2019," she said.

"Mrs Smelly Dube was summoned by the commission to assist with investigations in five farms, namely, Hartfordshire Phase 1 and 2 in Vungu RDC, Subdivision 4 of Gwelo small holdings (Woodlands), Portion of Mabula farm in Zvishavane and Portion of Mackgakooshla in Shurugwi.

"Numerous excuses were tendered by her lawyers resulting in her non-appearance before the commission.

"An attempt was even made to interdict the commission from hearing her evidence. This was dismissed by the courts.

"In her determination not to appear before the commission, she made yet another application to the High Court seeking review of the commission's decision to hear her evidence.

"The application is still pending. The commission awaits the outcome of the matter before calling her."

She indicated that the commission, which wraps up its work at the end of next month, would present its findings to President Emmerson Mnangagwa.

"The commission's mandate is up to 31 October 2019. A final report to the president will be presented at the end of the inquiry," Mabhiza said.

"The fact that Smelly Dube has tried by all means to avoid appearing before the commission will not stop the commission from producing a report on its findings.

"We have sufficient evidence to present to His Excellency, the President. The long arm of the law will eventually catch up with those who try to evade justice."

A number of government officials and state media journalists appeared before the land commission to explain the circumstances under which they received monies regularly in their personal capacities from Dube's River Valley Properties company.

Vungu Rural District Council technician Varinos Chebundo, who oversees the area that covers Woodlands Park, was also pressed by the commission to explain how he would get money into his personal account from Dube's company.

During the land commission's Gweru hearing, he could not explain why he resigned from a higher position at the Midlands physical planning department to take a lowly ranked position at Vungu RDC where River Valley Properties owns a housing project.

Shurugwi district administrator Langton Mupeta received over 10 Ecocash payments from River Valley Properties, but he failed to satisfactorily answer what the money was for.

River Valley Properties also has housing development projects in Shurugwi and Zvishavane.

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