Noose tightens on land barons

Source: Noose tightens on land barons | Sunday Mail

Debra Matabvu

A multi-agency probe into individuals and housing cooperatives that fell foul of the law has begun.

This follows an extensive inquiry into the illegal sale of State land around the country, .

Crack teams from the Zimbabwe Anti-Corruption Commission (ZACC), National Prosecuting Authority (NPA) and the Zimbabwe Republic Police (ZRP) are spearheading investigations of land barons unearthed by a commission of inquiry that was set up by President Mnangagwa in 2018.

The Commission of Inquiry, led by Justice Tendai Uchena, recommended criminal investigation, prosecution of land barons and regularisation of some illegal settlements. The inquiry covered the sale of State land in and around urban areas since 2005. Several cases that have been investigated by the crack teams have been referred to the Special Anti-Corruption Unit (SACU) in the Office of the President and Cabinet for immediate prosecution in specialised anti-corruption courts.

The Sunday Mail has established that the President has set up an Implementation Committee made up of experts to assist local authorities to implement the recommendations.

Justice, Legal and Parliamentary Affairs Permanent Secretary Mrs Virginia Mabhiza said investigations were progressing smoothly.

“Institutions such as the Zimbabwe Anti-Corruption Commission (ZACC), National Prosecuting Authority (NPA) and the Zimbabwe Republic Police (ZRP) have set up teams to implement recommendations of the Commission of Inquiry through spearheading further investigations with the view to prosecute land barons and other corrupt practices unearthed by the Uchena Commission,” she said.

“The ZACC, NPA and the ZRP have collaborated well in investigating and prosecuting some land barons.

“Some of the cases which border on corruption in land administration have been referred to the Specialised Anti-Corruption Unit (SACU) to be dealt with swiftly in anti-corruption courts which were set up by the Judicial Service Commission.”

SACU’s head Mr Tabani Mpofu said some of the cases are now before the courts.

“We have cases that have been referred to us and we are working on them. I do not have the exact number of cases off-hand; however, I can confirm some of the cases include a portion of State land in Mufakose and Chitungwiza. Some of the cases are now in courts.”

Mrs Mabhiza said the Implementation Committee would be tasked with assisting local authorities to restore urban housing to world-class status with requisite amenities.

The committee’s work will include facilitating the promulgation of legal instruments on modern urban development models and coordinating remedial action for home-seekers who were duped by the land barons.

“His Excellency the President has since put in place an Implementation Committee. Its terms of reference include: to coordinate and work closely with relevant institutions to facilitate further investigation and litigation of matters recommended for prosecution by the Inquiry; to identify, advise and facilitate enactment of laws and policies on urban development matters in line with recommendations by the Inquiry; and to advise and avail appropriate remedies for aggrieved beneficiaries and other actors in urban State land administration.

“While the Implementation Committee could not be deployed to provinces due to Covid-19 restrictions, other institutions responsible for urban State land administration have continued to work towards a sound urban State land administration governance framework.”

Harare, through the Minister of State for Provincial Affairs (Oliver Chidawu) and the Provincial Development Coordinator’s Office, is understood to be undertaking a programme to implement some of the recommendations.

“Let me, however, emphasise that the Implementation Committee will commence its work soon, bringing together all the relevant institutions in a systematic manner to cover all the ten provinces of the country.

“A holistic approach in implementing recommendations of the Commission of Inquiry will guarantee that we restore urban housing to a world-class status characterised by planned settlements with all requisite amenities such as water, tarred roads, sewer and recreational facilities,” she said.

Separately, the Ministry of National Housing and Social Amenities is engaging private financial institutions to fund reorganisation of housing development and regularisation of informal settlements.

National Housing and Social Amenities Permanent Secretary Engineer Theodius Chinyanga said regularisation of illegal settlements had begun.

“At the moment we are working on some administrative issues and we are yet to go on the ground to do the actual regularisation,” said Eng Chinyanga.

“But we have roped in financial institutions so that they can help fund the project, which is massive and needs financial injection.

“The local authorities will monitor and supervise the programme once it starts.”

The Uchena Commission revealed that land barons, housing cooperative leaders, property developers and politically connected people illegally sold US$3 billion worth of urban State land since 2005 and pocketed most of the cash.

It also recommended the investigation and possible prosecution of 431 cases of suspected corruption, including lifestyle audits and investigation of possible abuse of office charges for past and present Government officers connected with managing State land.

Thousands of desperate home-seekers purchased housing stands from land barons only to find that there were no roads, water or sewers while some of the stands were on wetlands, servitudes, sites earmarked for schools, clinics, recreation or other places where housing was not allowed.