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Gweru residents fume over $1.7 million stands scam

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A 2019 report by Auditor-General Mildred Chiri which unearthed malpractices in the sale of stands at Gweru City Council has caused chaos in the Midlands capital with residents demanding that those involved in the illicit deals be brought to justice, The Newshawks can report.

STEPHEN CHADENGA

According to Chiri’s report, stands valued at over ZW$1.7 million were sold but the local authority failed to provide supporting documents for all stands sold, the beneficiaries and receipts of the transactions.

Chiri also revealed that some councillors whose term of office has since expired were yet to pay for stands sold at concessionary rates on the understanding that they should pay up in full before the expiry of their term of office.

“I was not availed with supporting documents to show that the council has a record of all stands sold, their purchase price, the beneficiaries, amounts paid to date and outstanding balance on each stand,” Chiri said in her report.

“During the current year the listing provided to audit showed that stands worth $1 714 784 were sold, however the amount could not be traced to the financial reports.

“Councillors did not fill in stop order forms neither did they make any payment arrangement towards the purchase of stands allocated to them.”

The local residents’ association this week said it was not “amused” by the “lackadaisical approach” taken by council in dealing with those involved in the murky land sales.

Gweru Residents and Ratepayers Development Association Trust executive director David Chikore said there is a need to employ a more “aggressive approach” in bringing to book those involved in the corrupt land deals.

“There is need to engage anti-corruption agencies so that they follow the paper trail in those ‘sub-rosa’ transactions with a view of identifying the persons involved,” Chikore told The Newshawks.

“The paper trail will lead council to the culprits so that Town House recovers fair value for the stands, if not the stands themselves.

“Council should also furnish the number of councillors fingered in the report.”

Chikore added: “The information is critical in that it reveals the level of either compliance or impunity in those we entrust with the affairs of our city.”

He said it was unfortunate that councillors who advocated the prosecution of defaulting ratepayers were themselves “defaulting kingpins who take up office solely for looting.”

Another civic group, the Gweru Residents and Ratepayers Association, said the culprits must be prosecuted.

The association’s director, Cornelia Selipiwe, said the Auditor-General’s report exposed bad governance practices in the local authority.

“These challenges highlighted by the report point to lack of proper governance at council. We don’t have proper systems in place and this obviously erodes the confidence residents have in the local authority,” said Selipiwe.

He said it was surprising that the same councillors who were refusing to reduce rates for the struggling residents were the same people who were failing to pay for their stands.

“Whoever did not pay during their term of office should have stands repossessed and sold to those who can pay so that our city can go forward,” he said.

Mayor Josiah Makombe acknowledged the existence of dodgy land deals at council, but distanced his current crop of councillors from the rot.

He said his council invited central government to institute a forensic land audit after noting anomalies in the way land was parcelled out by previous councils.

“That is why some of our managers have been suspended and are going through disciplinary action for that,” he said.

“As for the issue of stands, we have said those former councillors who have not paid will have the stands repossessed. We acknowledge there were a lot of leakages, especially in the finance department.”

He added: “As Gweru City Council, we are trying our best to make sure that all the issues raised by the Auditor-General are responded to. We want to make sure that when the next audit comes most of the issues highlighted by the Auditor-General would have been addressed.”

Makombe said corruption in the local authority was one of the key reasons the development of the new Mkoba 21 residential stands had failed to take off.

He said the money for the sold stands should have been used to service the area, a responsibility he said the previous council failed to discharge. But speaking last week at a Zimbabwe Coalition on Debt and Development virtual indaba on public finance management and governance, Gweru Urban legislator Brian Dube said there was a need for council to assert its role in ensuring accountability in the local authority.

“There should be no sacred cows, we bank on you (the mayor and his councillors) that the anomalies in the allocation of stands are addressed. We call upon the acting town clerk and his management to cooperate with councillors in addressing these issues,” Dube said.

A 2019 land audit commissioned by central government revealed that from 2009 to 2019, council disposed of commercial, residential, institutional and industrial stands with an estimated value of ZW$21 million. According to the report, council only received half the value of the land due to dodgy deals by corrupt council officials.

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