Saviour Kasukuwere investigates Harare land deals

Source: Saviour Kasukuwere investigates Harare land deals | The Financial Gazette February 2, 2017

LOCAL Government Minister, Saviour Kasukuwere says his ministry is investigating the land-for-road deal that the City of Harare, under the supervision of his predecessor, Ignatius Chombo, entered with Augur Investments, an Estonian-owned firm registered in Mauritius.
Kasukuwere is taking the move in order to justify his decision to seize back vast tracks of land that were given to Augur Investments in a deal that raised eyebrows.
Late last year, after Kasukuwere had seized back the land in Harare’s Pomona area that formed part of the deal, Augur contested the seizure in the High Court where Justice Clement Phiri ordered his ministry, the City of Harare and other parties that were benefiting from the parceling out of the land to vacate.
Asked what he had done about the court order, Kasukuwere said this week he had taken the matter to the Supreme Court and also that he had ordered an investigation into the whole deal.
“We have appealed and we will have to seriously investigate the matter. It’s a serious matter (that) warrants immediate attention,” Kasukuwere told the Financial Gazette.
When the tripartite deal was signed in 2008, Michael Mahachi was acting chairman of a commission that was running the City of Harare.
He also doubled up as Augur Investment’s project manager.
Kasukuwere, who is also the ZANU-PF national political commissar, took over the Local Government Ministry from Chombo, who is now Home Affairs Minister.
Chombo is also the ZANU-PF secretary for administration.
Already, an internal investigation report by the Movement for Democratic Change (MDC-T) controlled Harare City Council, corroborated by the Office of the Auditor General, appears to show Kasukuwere’s predecessor as the kingpin in the tripartite deal that saw the capital city pledging 4 000 hectares of land in exchange for the upgrading of a mere 12-km stretch of road to the Harare International Airport, known officially as the Joshua Mqabuko Nkomo highway.
Although the value of the road project —which was given to Augur without due tender process — was pegged at US$80 million, of which 90 percent (US$72 million) was to be paid through the 4 000 hectares of prime land in Harare, while the remaining 10 percent (US$8 million) was to be paid in cash, Augur was given more than 700 hectares of land (which included State land that was released even when it had barely constructed the road.
According to court papers, in a case between Augur and T&C Construction Company, a company sub-contracted by Augur to do the actual work, only 2,4 km of a single lane of the road was done at a cost of US$4,8 million.
This was all that Augur did, but it went on to claim to the City of Harare that the patchwork was worth US$20 million.
From the court papers, it was agreed that the City of Harare would deposit title deeds of the various pieces of land due to Augur with a Harare law firm, Coghlan, Welsh & Guest, for transfer to the company on satisfactory completion of the work, but the company took ownership of the land even before it had done any work.
In his affidavit opposing Augur’s claim, Local Government Ministry permanent secretary, George Mlilo, declared that government had taken the land back because the firm had not delivered on its side of the bargain, with the Zimbabwe National Roads Administration (ZINARA) eventually being roped in to do most of the work.
“… (the government) does not owe anything to the applicant (Augur)… ZINARA took over the project and applicant was taken off the project… The State then repossessed its land and informed the City of Harare about this position,” Mlilo said, adding: “The Title Deed should be released back to its owners, i.e. the State.”
The agreement between the applicant and the respondents (Local Government ministry and City of Harare) “is therefore of NO consequence in the given circumstances,” he further addded.
The investigations done by Harare City councillors in 2010 revealed that the former local government minister played a big role in this deal.
In an interview recorded by councillors investigating the tender, it was revealed that Harare chamber secretary Josephine Ncube (currently acting Town Clerk) had been involved in earlier meetings, “but was later notified by the Town Clerk Dr (Tendai) Mahachi that she was not to be involved in any meetings because Dr I Chombo had said so”.
Said the report: “The chamber secretary was advised not to be involved in the Airport Road project by the Minister (I. Chombo) but her subordinate, (chief legal officer) was to be the council’s legal representative in the project.”
The report pointed out that the negotiations went smoothly for Augur because Mahachi doubled as both council and Augur’s representative.
Mahachi had been handpicked by Chombo to be the chairman of the commission that was running Harare and went on to superintend over the handover of land to Augur.
“At this meeting (in 2008), M Mahachi gave feedback on council land he had identified for payment to Augur. M Mahachi, the custodian of council land as a councillor, but now project manager for Augur and identifying land for his new bosses,” the report said, adding that for his role as project manager, Mahachi was paid close to US$2 million.
Augur is represented locally by Ken Sharpe and his co-director Michael van Blerk, who are also fighting with the other foreign-based directors of the company over the manner in which they have been handling the land from this controversial road project.
In the fight with Kasukuwere, Augur is represented by Advocate Nelson Chamisa, ironically the vice president of the MDC-T, which has been accusing Chombo of conniving with Mahachi and Augur to take away vast tracks of land from Harare and the government in return for virtually nothing.
Chamisa confirmed that Kasukuwere had taken the matter to the appeals court.