Blessings Chidakwa Municipal Reporter
MDC-Alliance Harare councillors and the city’s management have been bleeding council of millions of dollars over the years in a property lease scam caused by the shambolic state of the council revenue books.
As a result of the racket, the city fathers are collecting rentals and revenue from the city’s several but unaccounted properties, the troubled capital has lost millions of dollars over a period spanning more than two decades since the MDC took control of the municipality.
The stunning revelations came to light after a fire gutted a council-owned property in Belvedere suburb where tenants were however paying rentals to individuals and not to Harare City Council.
The elaborate scam, that involves top council officials includes the deliberate practice of using expired leases as well as dozens of bank account numbers that are in the name of the council but not audited as should be the practice.
At the 12 apartment Chirundu block of flats near the Divaris Shopping Centre in Belvedere, each tenant has for the past decade been paying US$150 monthly rentals to a suspected space baron who is based in the United Kingdom and has close ties with city officials.
Acting Harare City Council spokesperson Mr Innocent Ruwende conceded that council was in the dark on who was collecting rentals from its flats and is now carrying out investigations.
“Of all the apartments only two belonged to council. We are still investigating their occupancy because they were also engulfed by the inferno,” he said.
Interestingly, the council with a fully-fledged property management department which should simply check on its properties is appealing to people who were paying rentals to land barons to approach the municipality for regularisation.
“We are actually inviting all people renting council properties from third parties to visit our offices and have their occupancy regularised. The properties include houses, apartments and business premises,” Mr Ruwende said.
This shocking admission from the city council comes at a time when Harare City Council human resources capital director Cainos Chingombe allegedly connived with other city executives and transferred more than US$130 000 into his account from the council’s traditional beer levy account and bought a top-of-the-range car.
The money was meant for the provision of water, sanitation, education and recreational services.
Meanwhile, in what could be the tip of the iceberg of the rot in the MDC-A run council, tenants at the Chirundu block of flats paid more than US$1 million
to connected land barons over the past decade.
Calculations show that for only two Belvedere flats with 24 apartments, with each occupant paying US$150 monthly for the past 10 years, the council lost a potential US$864 000.
Investigations also revealed that the City Council could be losing more in potential revenue since it has no control of its properties such as Glenview 8 complex, Gazaland, Mupedzanhamo and Machipisa markets, as well as flats in Mbare and in the city centre.
Last year, a handful of council workers residing at council owned Trafalgar Court in the CBD voiced concern over the proliferation of commercial sex workers at the flat who however, pay rentals to shadowy individuals.
Back then, the city’s corporate communications manager Mr Michael Chideme said council would investigate the issue and cancel leases for those found subletting the apartments. However, a year later nothing has changed, investigations further revealed.
What is worse a special council report on rented accommodation that was tabled early this year, recommending a forensic audit on all council properties, residential and commercial, with a view to ensure that such properties match records at the deeds office has not been actioned, further rising eyebrows of possible connivance among the city fathers to perpetuate the chaos.
“Some leased and rented properties of council were illegally being sublet. The sub-tenants or occupiers held no lease agreements with council.
“The databases at district offices are different from information on the ground. District officers do not have control over lease of properties and were not following up on the same,” read the report.
The report also recommended that all illegal tenants in council’s rented properties be evicted and the list thereof be submitted to the legal division for eviction formalities.
It further recommended a review of policy on council’s rented houses and that district officers be actively involved in the administration of council’s rented properties.