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Gweru council protects US$10m dodgy dealers

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SOME corrupt Gweru City Council officials who benefited from more than US$10 million in unprocedural land deals over the past decade are yet to be made public with residents criticising the local authority for its unwillingness to bring the culprits to justice.

STEPHEN CHADENGA

A 2019 forensic audit report by the ministry of Local Government revealed council has been unprocedurally disposing of land for the past 10 years.

Over the years the Midlands provincial capital, which is yet to fully automate operations in its key departments, has been struggling to account for vast tracts of land.

 As reported by The NewsHawks last year, from 2009 to 2019 Gweru disposed of residential, commercial, institutional and industrial stands with an estimated value of US$21 million, but earned only half of that money because of dodgy deals.

 “The expected value of all the stands disposed during the period from 2009 to date of audit (2019) was over US$21 889 823,” the land audit report said.

“To date the city council had realised over US$11 811 848 for the stands disposed and had an outstanding land sale balance of around $10 077 974 due and payable by the beneficiaries. The use of a manual record system, which was not in order and the Promun system was not reliable as stands sold on cash basis were not captured in the system.”

The audit conducted from March to May 2019 by a team of Local Government chief internal auditor Angel Nyoni and five other members showed that, during the period, council created over 7 206 stands for disposal with a portion of the land sales not accounted for.

 The review established that 7 048 stands were received for disposal by council with a difference of 158 stands remaining unexplained. Stands were created through unprocedural allocation on open spaces, recreational sites and golf courses, among other undesignated places.

This week The NewsHawks sought comment on the progress the city has made to bring to book officials involved in the land scam with a senior city official saying something was being done but that residents needed to understand that the procedure was slow and needed patience.

“You should understand that this is a slow-burning process, but it is taking place,” acting town clerk Douglas Chikwekwe told this publication.

“The land audit was conducted mainly in the estates and evaluations, as well as housing departments respectively. As council we also carried out our inquiries on cases that needed to be investigated. The law enforcement agents are seized with the matter and some people have appeared before the courts.”

Chikwekwe said a section of the Zimbabwe Anti-Corruption Commission was also involved in asset recovery from officials caught up in the graft rot. However, he would not immediately reveal some of the people being investigated, emphasising that some of the cases were pending in court.

Investigations by The NewsHawks, however, found out that only a few selected former and suspended senior officials had been brought before the courts and these include former town clerk Daniel Matawu and suspended housing director Shingirayi Tigere.

Council has also brought suspended estates and evaluations manager Gibson Chingwadza before a disciplinary hearing.

But concerned residents said it was disappointing that only a few “selected individuals were targeted” when it was clear that many people were involved in the dubious land deals.

 “Honestly, corruption involving land of that magnitude has to net more people across various departments at council. But we see a selective approach that could be like other investigations of corruption in the country that have not brought any tangible results,” Gweru United Progressive Residents and Ratepayers Development Association director David Chikore said.

 In 2020, mayor Josiah Makombe told The NewsHawks that the Local Government ministry submitted the report to council last year and that disciplinary action has since been instituted against officials implicated in the audit.

 He said although the report mainly touched on the period presided over by his predecessors, his administration will leave no “stone unturned in bringing the culprits to book.

“We have since suspended employees implicated in the audit to institute disciplinary measures against them,” he said then.

Last year, residents also alleged the local authority was not availing the report to residents, but Makombe said council had nothing to hide and members of the public interested in the document should approach the council offices.

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