Zimbabwe: $3 Billion Lost to Land Barons

(File photo).
11 December 2019

Land barons, housing cooperative leaders, property developers and politically-connected people illegally sold $3 billion worth of urban State land since 2005 and pocketed most of the cash, a commission of inquiry has reported.

At least 431 cases of suspected corruption in the sale of State land need to be investigated and prosecutions instigated, recommended the Commission of Inquiry into the Sale of State Land in and around Urban Settlements.

In addition, the commission wants all past and present Government officers connected with managing State land investigated, including lifestyle audits, for possible charges of abuse of office, bribery and general corrupt practices.

Many who bought stands from land barons were cheated, finding they had no roads, water or sewers and that their stands were on wetlands, servitudes, sites earmarked for schools, clinics and recreation or other places where housing was not allowed.

The commission, chaired by Justice Tendai Uchena, was appointed on February 1, 2018 and completed its mandate in October. The commission presented its findings to President Mnangagwa yesterday.

The President, who was in the company of his two deputies -- Cdes Constantino Chiwenga and Kembo Mohadi -- at his Munhumutapa offices, assured the commission that Government will leave no stone unturned in bringing land barons to book.

"I want to assure you that Government will seriously examine and interrogate the recommendations you have made for the purpose of correcting where corrections are needed and institute prosecution where it is necessary.

"We have a huge challenge as Government to make sure that our people have basic necessities like water, sewer and roads as highlighted in the executive summary.

"We will also call upon you to give explanations or elaborate on some of the recommendations made like the role of the police, National Prosecuting Authority (NPA) and Zimbabwe Anti-Corruption Commission (ZACC) in dealing with the cases that need investigations. Each entity will identify its role in the process of correcting what went wrong. We do not want a repeat of the continuous abuse of State land."

President Mnangagwa's comments came after the commission said the Government recovered less than 10 percent of the intrinsic value of the State land due to corruption.

Value was also lost due to lack of land valuations, the creation of new urban settlements by aspiring or sitting Members of the National Assembly, abuse of political office in the allocation and appropriation of land, as well as the use of names of top Zanu-PF officials to exert undue influence on Government institutions and processes.

"The commission established that the ministry responsible for Local Government has a responsibility to value all the farms handed over to it and recover the monetary value from the local authorities, developers and cooperatives in the form of intrinsic value.

"However, the ministry responsible for Local Government has not been able to value all the farms utilised for urban development. Accordingly, planning, allocations, development and occupation have taken place without valuation for most farms," Justice Uchena said.

"The commission's computation of the total value of the farms, according to the ministry responsible for Local Government, is US$3 004 368.931. However, the Government has recovered less than 10 percent of the intrinsic value of the land and is owed almost US$3 billion by beneficiaries of urban State land. To be exact, the total full prejudice to the State stands at US$2 977 072 819."

Besides corruption, the commission called for the exercise of due diligence in the issuance of certificates of No Present Interest to avoid instances like the case of Zimati Kop and Rockingstone farms in Makoni District where one family allegedly acquired State land the size of Rusape Town.

The Ministry of Local Government and Public Works' failure to fully execute its mandate resulted in the illegal sale of urban State land by cooperative leaders and developers who were pocketing the proceeds without developing on-site and off-site infrastructure.

"This created opportunities for land barons to sell urban State land. Land barons are usually politically-connected, self-proclaimed illegal State land 'authorities' who illegally sold the State land in and around urban areas without accounting for the proceeds.

"Housing development has occurred on unplanned areas such as wetlands, under power lines, on top of sewer lines, sites designated for institutional or commercial use (schools and clinics), and recreational centres and for other public uses.

"The State suffered prejudice due to losses, which occurred as a result of Ministry of Local Government undervaluing urban State land or complete failure to value it, poor record keeping, poor financial management and failure to invoice developers and beneficiaries of urban state land," Justice Uchena said.

The commission also identified the policy of parallel development by the Ministry of Local Government as having contributed to the problem of houses that were built without adequate services such as access roads, water and sewer reticulation.

On corruption, Justice Uchena said: "The commission established that there are several serious cases which require further investigations by relevant bodies which have arresting and enforcement powers such as ZACC, National Prosecuting Authority (NPA) and Zimbabwe Republic Police (ZRP).

"The statistics for cases recommended for further investigations are as follows: Harare Metropolitan (156 cases), Mashonaland East (120), Mashonaland West (50), Midlands (27), Mashonaland Central (25), Manicaland (22), Masvingo (21), Matabeleland South (five) and the combined Matabeleland North and Bulawayo Metropolitan (five)."

The commission urged the Government to update all records of State land and to avoid "issuing large tracts of State land to one beneficiary because of their political connections such as land which was offered to Muungwe Properties (Pvt) Ltd owned by one family in Makoni District which is almost the size of land occupied by Rusape Town Council".

The commission called for the investigation of all officers, past and present, involved or connected with management of urban State land (allocation, planning, valuations, survey, and allocation of commonage, creation and transfer of title) since 2005 on allegations of abuse of office, receiving bribes, and general corrupt conduct; and conduct lifestyle audits on them.

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