LOCAL authorities are losing millions of dollars to land barons who claim to own land while defrauding home seekers, Local Government, Public Works and National Housing Minister Saviour Kasukuwere has said.
Minister Kasukuwere said the issue of land barons was a serious cancer that the ministry was dealing with.
He was responding to questions in Parliament on Thursday after giving a ministerial statement on the suspension of Chitungwiza Municipality councillors over corruption allegations.
“This is a serious cancer in our society. If you calculate say 13 000 stands being sold at $4 000 or $5 000 each, what would they give you? This is about $54 million and this is the amount of money that our local authorities are losing to individuals who claim to own land and sell it and it is indeed a serious cause for concern.
Chitungwiza councillors and officials drove the municipality into bankruptcy through illegal land sales, as land in the dormitory town had become ‘a free for all’, the commission running the affairs of the council has said.
An internal audit revealed that councillors and staff allocated themselves stands/land and undercharged by as much as $200 and proceeded to sell the same stands for $5 000. The bankrupt council owes various creditors, including statutory obligations of more than $62 million while the local authority is owed $49 million by residents, business and Government departments.
Speaking during a tour of Chitungwiza by Local Government, Public Works and National Housing Minister, Saviour Kasukuwere and other senior officials from his ministry, the commission’s chairperson Mr Madzudzo Pawadyira said most of the problems bedevilling Chitungwiza would have vanished had council received what was due to it.
First Lady Amai Grace Mugabe yesterday said authorities responsible for land allocation in urban areas must be held accountable for their cruelty of watching people erect houses on illegal land without stopping them, only to pitch up to demolish the completed structures.
She said it was disheartening that those in charge of land allocation chose to turn a blind eye when people build houses on the illegal land. Amai Mugabe made the remarks while handing over a house built by Zimbabwe Music Awards (Zima) to revolutionary musician Dickson “Cde Chinx” Chingaira in Harare.
“There are questions we are asking and we want answers,” she said. “Someone must answer these questions out there, kuti ndiani akambopa land iyoyo, ndiani akasainira, who was the councillor during that particular time, how did it go?
“We want to get the real story, not only the chorus that people built on undesignated land. I saw this happening and you all saw it. Inga huku nembudzi dzedu topfigira wani, what about a person?”
Local authorities, together with the Local Government, Public Works and National Housing Ministry are responsible for urban land.
Amai Mugabe went on: “You see someone building his or her house from the foundation level to window and roof level until completion, then when they are about to move in, someone comes and says it’s an illegal structure.
The First Lady said due diligence was needed before demolitions, with culprits being brought to book.
Local Government, Public Works and National Housing Minister Saviour Kasukuwere has appointed a caretaker commission for Chitungwiza Town Council led by retired civil servant Mr Madzudzo Pawadyira tasked with reversing illegal land acquisitions.
This follows the minister’s decision earlier in the week to suspend Mayor Phillip Mutoti and all 24 councillors for allegedly corruptly allocating themselves tracts of land worth over $7 million.
An internal audit showed that councillors and officials allocated themselves commercial and institutional stands for a song.
Principal director (Urban Local Authorities), Ms Erica Jones said the other two members of the commission were Chitungwiza district administrator Ms Zvivanai Chisango and retired councillor Joshua Mabhiza.
The commission will carry out all functions of council except levying, rates and taxes.
“Their special focus areas will be to reverse all illegal land acquisitions as outlined in two audit reports, institute correctional measures to prevent similar occurrences and oversee the putting in place of proper procedures for estate management,” said Ms Jones.
An internal audit report that reportedly triggered the suspensions indicates that council staff and councillors allocated themselves undeveloped stands they would have identified in the town.
“Consequently, as at 14 February 2016, council was prejudiced of $7 771 112, 88 in revenue as council ended up realising $349 962 from the projected $8 121 074, translating to a paltry 4% payment rate,” read part of the report.
The report listed all councillors who benefited from the alleged illegal land sales with one Charamba Mlambo said to have sold over 46 stands and one Lameck Chibvongodze also illegally selling 32 stands.
Mutoti, according to the report, allegedly sold land worth more $100 000 while Zanu PF national youth secretary Kudzanai Chipanga is said to have been given an offer letter for a 2 000-square metre stand worth $16 710 by Chibvongodze although there were no records to prove that the ruling party’s youth leader paid for the land.
The councillors and top management, according to the report, also allocated themselves commercial stands which they allegedly later sold to land barons.
“The syndicate identified potential buyers of stands/land, processed offer letters directly in the names of these buyers, collected such offer letters on their behalf against council policy or in cases where transfer of such land is required, council staff would process cession without any payment made to council. The cartel has thus effectively transformed into real estate agents.”
The move to suspend the entire council came as President Robert Mugabe recently set up a special Cabinet committee to investigate suspected illegal land sales in all urban local authorities.