Saviour Kasukuwere may not enjoy such a healthy personal relationship with truth, honesty and uprightness as a politician and public official, but the wisdom of his intervention in the Chitungwiza land theft cannot be doubted.
Comment: The Standard Editor
His swift reaction to an internal audit report exposing massive looting of land by Chitungwiza city fathers must be commended. Kasukuwere, who is the Local Government minister, suspended mayor Phillip Mutoti together with the entire town’s 24 councillors for allegedly stealing and sharing among themselves land worth over $7 million.
We reported two weeks ago in this paper how investigations by the Parliamentary Portfolio Committee on Local Government led by Irene Zindi exposed another huge scandal where named land barons were wreaking havoc in Chitungwiza.
The land barons are operating with such sickening impunity; they have created their own land authority where they have their own architects, town planners, building inspectors and housing officers.
Such a shocking scenario could only happen in situations where there is no legal local authority in place; or where councillors and top council executives are equally corrupt — rotten to the core. The Local Government audit proved the latter.
The Local Government internal investigation unearthed a scam where Mutoti and councillors illegally allocated themselves large swathes of land — sometimes as many as 42 residential and commercial stands per individual. They would then resell these stands and make personal fortunes. Meanwhile, Chitungwiza council has failed to pay its workers for over a year.
Such corruption is the reason why most towns and cities in Zimbabwe and Chitungwiza in particular have failed to develop — remaining in a state of perpetual crisis. The current council has stolen over $7 million in land alone — money that could have gone a long way in resuscitating the town’s comatose service delivery system.
Land theft in Chitungwiza has become prodigious. Every council that has run this sprawling town has focused more on stealing land than service delivery. People that are supposed to stand for the interest of residents — as city fathers — have for decades had a freehold on the land in Chitungwiza. They give each other no limit to the number of stands they can lay claim on.
No open space has been spared in Chitungwiza. The town’s housing plan has been trashed. Being a councillor in Chitungwiza has become a ticket to unbridled wealth. These men and women became land barons overnight — corruptly obtaining vast tracts of land for free and selling each stand for an average of $4 000 instead of the official council price of $200 per stand.
And, because they made sure nobody got anything by following the legitimate housing waiting list, the stolen stands sold like cake.
Meanwhile, the town has become known for sewerage stench, water shortage, uncollected refuse and potholes, but council is clearly not concerned.
Ignatius Chombo, Kasukuwere’s predecessor, handled countless such cases of fraud during his long tenure as Local Government minister, but he failed to bring sanity to the town. In fact, he often made things worse. Despite clear evidence of criminal acts, Chombo did nothing to bring the thieves to book. Instead, he brought in what he called special interest councillors whose interest was more on consuming the bare bones that remained of the town’s carcass than resuscitating it.
In all this criminality, residents are the victims. Despite their land being stolen, ratepayers also fork out millions of dollars for services that are not provided. The money finances fraud and huge salaries for consecutive council executives who, like the councillors, are more concerned with lining their pockets than service delivery.
When, as is the case now, government, through the Local Government ministry appears to act, they have rubbed salt on the wound by appointing special councillors or committees who have proceeded to milk the town further through awarding themselves obscene salaries and allowances which are approved by the minister.
So, while we applaud Kasukuwere’s action to suspend the corrupt councillors, we urge him to go further and probe the city executives as well and not to reward his caretaker commission with more milk from Chitungwiza’s dying cow.