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Minister in stands row

Comment & Analysis
BY CAIPHAS CHIMHETETHE Anti-Corruption Commission of Zimbabwe (ACCZ) has instituted investigations into how a private company was given State land to develop housing stands in Borrowdale in a case that has sucked in a cabinet minister.

Local Government, Urban and Rural Development minister, Ignatius Chombo facilitated the incorporation of the piece of land, which initially fell under the Goromonzi Rural District Council into Harare despite objections from Zanu PF’s top brass and Cynthia Maadza, a war veteran who was allocated the land under the land reform programme.

Chombo is accused of paying a blind eye to protests that Crowhill (Pvt) Limited, which is now developing the area in the posh suburb, had illegally taken over Maadza’s land.

“We want to look on a number of anomalies regarding how they started developing that area,” said one of the officials. “We will also quiz Goromonzi Rural District officials over reports of a fake permit that was once issued to Crowhill.”

ACCZ chairman Eric Harid referred questions to Rungano Utaunashe, a fellow commissioner who was not available for comment.

Crowhill has already sold thousands of residential stands to prospecting home owners at prices ranging from US$5 000 to US$12 000 depending on the size.

Documents in our possession show that Chombo authorised Goromonzi council to allow Crowhill to develop stands on the property in August 2009 although the notice to change the status was only published a year later.

In an earlier letter on July 9 2008, Chombo said he supported Crowhill’s partnership with West Property (Pvt) Limited to develop the same project.

West Properties has close links with Augur Investments, a company from Estonia doing business with the Harare City Council on the dualisation of the controversial Joshua Mqabuko Nkomo express way project.

At least two of its directors also sit on Augur Investments’ board.

The documents also show that the change was in defiance to earlier recommendations from Zanu PF’s top brass directing that the estate remain a resettlement area as it was supporting beneficiaries of the land reform programme.

Chombo changed Lot J of Borrowdale from agricultural purposes to urban stands development although the late Vice President Joseph Msika and Minister of State in the President’s Office, Didymus Mutasa were against the idea.

On October 1 2010, the secretary for Local Government, Urban and Rural Development Killian Mupingo published a notice of intention to incorporate the estate into Harare although Crowhill (Pvt) Limited had already started working on the land.

In a notice of objection dated October 11 2010, Maadza accused Chombo’s ministry of trying to corruptly change the status of her property since 2007.

She questioned why the ministry was publishing the notice when it had already authorised Crowhill, represented by Cephas Msika Jnr, to develop a housing project.

Maadza said the ministry never responded to her objections although Crowhill, which claims to have a permit, is proceeding with the contested project.

Chombo last week said he was “told” by Minister of Lands and Rural Resettlement Herbert Murerwa that the farm belonged Crowhill.

“I don’t have any interest in that property,” Chombo said. “We are taking a lot of land around Harare and we facilitate with the planning on those pieces of land.”

He said about 72 peri-urban farms would soon be incorporated into Harare.

Chombo said his ministry did not respond to Maadza’s objections because it was Murerwa who was supposed to object as the land belonged to the State.

Chombo said Mutasa and Msika were just giving political advice.

But Crowhill company secretary Agnes Kusemamuriwo said they were offered a permit in 2003, adding that the dispute occurred because Maadza had an offer letter while Crowhill had a permit for the same piece of land.

She said she could not comment on allegations that the permit was fake because “the minutes are internal documents and we do not know who said it was fake.”

She promised to come back with documents that confirm that the land belongs to Crowhill.

When The Standard called later she said she was busy and would phone back but had not done so by Friday.

Minutes of a conflict resolution meeting by the Ministry of Lands and Rural Resettlement and the National Land Inspectorate held on November 5 2009, says that the permit issued to Crowhill was not genuine.

The meeting resolved that a 2004 High Court interdict given to Crowhill be withdrawn and that the matter be investigated by the police.

The Attorney General’s Office said the interdict that Crowhill sought to rely on was superceded by Constitutional Amendment No 17 of 2005 under item No 101.

“A criminal docket, Borrowdale CR 225/02/09 charging the complainant and his company for holding, using or occupying gazetted land without lawful authority from the State is with our office and their prosecution is underway,” wrote Tawanda Zvekare on September 9 2009, to Office-in-Charge of Borrowdale Police Station.

Efforts to get a comment from Zvekare or AG Johannes Tomana on the status of the case were unsuccessful last week.

The conflict resolution meeting was attended by Murerwa, Deputy Commissioner General Godwin Matanga, Air Vice Marshal Henry Muchena, Major General Engelbert Rugeje, Chief Land Officer Joseph Munyanyi, among others.

Efforts to get a comment from Murerwa were unsuccessful.