THE Zimbabwe Anti-Corruption Commission (Zacc) is investigating a protracted fierce dispute over a farm in Goromonzi – Subdivision H of Whiteside Farm measuring 40,8 hectares which accommodates one of the biggest tobacco grading factories in the country – amid reports that it was acquired by corrupt means.
The wrangle over the prime farm involves three parties: Mashonaland East Tobacco Graders, the original owners,
Mashonaland East Tobacco Contractors, a consortium of management and workers which once ran the farm, and businessman Samson Chauruka who claims to have bought the property from its owners, and Lesley Jane Lombard.
The case has been going for the past decade, with numerous court battles being fought over its control. Documents show that the farm, also known as Bromley Farm, has been at the centre of a protracted and bruising battle between the parties which are claiming a right to its possession or ownership.
The farm was at some point acquired by the state, but acquisition was set aside thus restoring the status quo ante.
Lombard was a director in Mashonaland East Tobacco Graders which owned the farm and employed workers who went on to form Mashonaland East Tobacco Contractors to run the farm after their employers abandoned them due to operational and financial problems.
Due to financial problems, fuelled by the chaotic land reform programme, the owners failed to pay arrear salaries due to employees and thus deserted them without terminating their contracts.
The farm was then left under management of its workers through a lease trading as Mashonaland East Tobacco Contractors. This arrangement subsisted until 28 October 2011 when Lombard successfully sought cancellation of the lease and evicted the workers for failing to pay rentals. The eviction was challenged since the workers still had valid contracts. Lombard’s move was also challenged on the grounds that she had no locus standi to evict them as the farm belonged to the company, a legal persona in its own right.
The labour dispute between the employees was taken to the National Employment Council for the Tobacco Industry. To complicate matters further, Lombard sought to extract herself from the dispute by purportedly selling her shares in the company in whose name the farm is registered to Chauruka.
Upon assuming control of the farm, Chauruka resorted to “dirty tricks” to get rid of the management and workers who resisted and challenged his move, citing a breach of labour laws, especially section 16 of the Labour Act which stipulates that contracts of employees upon transfer of such an enterprise to new owners shall not be affected unless lawfully terminated.
Documents show that lands authorities have previously tried to resolve the issue, saying it needed “thorough interrogation and investigation” as there too many stories and inconsistencies surrounding the farm history
and its ownership.
The dispute needs to be investigated to ensure there was no corruption and irregularities involved because “there are several inconsistencies and too many stories that warrant dep investigation and scrutiny”, one document says.
“We are investigating this issue because we believe there was serious corruption involving the parties claiming ownership, ministry officials and some lawyers who facilitated change of ownership illegally,” a Zacc official said.
“We need to get to the bottom of this matter which reeks of abuse of office by state employees and their cohorts.’ Efforts to get comment from the parties involved were unsuccessful last night. – STAFF WRITER