AN investigation into the conduct of Harare City Council director of works Isaih Chawatama has opened a can of worms on a series of scandals — illegal sale of land, lack of proper systems of use of road funds and failure to implement important municipality resolutions.
One of the most scandalous issues to emerge from the probe is that Queen of Hearts, a popular upmarket Harare restaurant in Highlands, is operating illegally.
Chawatama was suspended on 8 September by former town clerk Hosiah Chisango. And then Chisango was arrested two days later on allegations of being involved in a Kuwadzana land scam.
In a suspension letter to Chawatama, Chisango said there was reason to believe that his conduct was inappropriate and unacceptable.
The director of works was accused of issuing an instruction that surveying of land be undertaken in Mufakose suburb without first verifying who owns it, which is unprocedural. He was also accused of delaying Zimbabwe National Roads Administration (Zinara) road funds use, leading to loss of value; abusing fuel and failing to implement a council resolution to stop Queen of Hearts restaurant and complex from operating.
Queen of Hearts is a top restaurant in Highlands, which offers a variety of cuisines and vast swathes of sitting area and playgrounds for children. It is one of the best eateries in Harare.
Chawatama is further accused of sending unwarranted and confidential WhatsApp messages on formal WhatsApp business platforms meant to “cause alarm and despondency”.
In his responses captured in minutes of meetings during investigations into alleged misconduct by the director of works held at Cleveland House boardroom on 6 October in Harare, Chawatama exposed how land barons were illegally taking over state and council land. In some instances, council has been selling land it does not even own.
According to the minutes, land barons are amassing land in Harare; sometimes working with council workers. As a result, council risked being sued for grabbing state land without authority, according to an audit report provided as an annexure in the minutes.
“Land barons may be working with council employees to take both state and council land. Involvement of council employees in an illegal sale of land could tarnish council’s image,” the report says.
Another issue raised was that council received funds amounting to $10 million from Zinara on 1 June 2020, but the procurement department delayed utilisation, sparking accusations that the department engaged companies not able to supply the required goods.
“Repeated follow-ups were made with supply chain to check on the procurement progress. The chief engineer roads wrote a letter of complaint to supply chain on the 21stof July 2020 after noting delay in deliveries.” Chawatama said in a 1 August report sent to the environmental management committee on 30 September 2020.
“It took time to spend up to 75% of the disbursement, delays in getting proof of payments and account bank statements after payments from the accounts office as there was restricted staff due to Covid-19.”
Zinara requires road authorities to acquit disbursements when expenditure has reached 75%.
Chawatama also said bitumen products were acquired from South Africa and delayed reaching Zimbabwe as a result of border delays and restrictions.
Queen of Hearts was also caught up in the investigation as it is allegedly operating outside council by-laws and regulations.
Council has been writing to Queen of Hearts to stop commercial activities at the stand, which is categorised as a residential zone.
“For your information stand 227A Highlands, otherwise known as 1 Hurworth Road Highlands Harare is situated within a residential zone 1A (i) of the operative City of Harare combined East Sections 1-4 town planning scheme wherein use of freight containers is prohibited. Such use amounts to a contravention of section 24 of the Regional Town and Country Planning Act (chapter 29:12) revised edition 1996,” a letter to Queen of Hearts from council reads.
“You are, therefore, advised to cease use of freight containers, restaurant and shop.” The property has 20 freight containers being used as shops.