Minister implicated in new Zim land scandal
Local government minister Ignatius Chombo has been sucked into another land scandal after a company linked to him was allocated land on which a number of tenants already have 30-year leases granted in 2012.
According to council minutes, the company, Trynmerge Investments, would get a stand measuring 23 212m2 at the corner of Bulawayo Road and 1st Street in the Harare suburb of Kuwadzana to construct a shopping mall.
The decision to grant Trynmerge Investments the lease was made recently by a government-appointed commission that has been running the affairs of the Harare City Council since the dissolution of Parliament and councils on June 28 ahead of the July 31 polls.
Following the elections, the Movement for Democratic Change (MDC) won control of Harare, but a caretaker council is presiding over the capital’s municipality as the new councillors are yet to assume their duties.
The minutes of the caretaker council meeting dated July 24 say Trynmerge Investments must first lease the land at US$0.30 a square metre and be given the option to purchase it after five years on condition that a principal commercial building was erected within that period.
“Resolved that notwithstanding council policy recorded under item three of the minutes of the land alienation subcommittee dated 26th September 2005 to lease such stands through tender and subject to the provisions of section 152 of the urban councils act (chapter 29:15), stands 17108, 17110, 15413 and 10500 Kuwadzana township be leased to Tynmerge Investments for construction of a multipurpose shopping mall,” reads the caretaker council’s minutes.
“The company shall, at its own cost, apply and obtain change-of-use permits for the stands from community centre, polyclinic and church use to commercial use.”
Those affected say Chombo is linked to the company and is set to benefit.
A senior source at Town House said: “The minister [Chombo] may be running it [Tynmerge] through a proxy.”
Efforts to reach Chombo for comment were fruitless. Attempts to find out from Tynmerge Investments how it acquired the lease and whether it was aware that the land was already being leased were also unsuccessful.
At present, there is not much development on the land as it is mainly leased by churches that conduct services in tents. There is also a clinic and community centre popularly known as “kwaHolland”. The value of the land could not be established.
The pastor of Charis Ministries said, when he heard that Chombo was supposed to take over the land, he initially dismissed it as mere rumour as the church had a 30-year lease that was granted in July 2012.
Move not to gazette the takeover
The pastor said, though no formal communication had taken place, council sources had told the tenants that there was a move not to gazette the takeover to avoid their objections.
“We have been told about the minutes and that the local government minister [Chombo] is the one who wants to take over. There is no clause in our lease that talks about a takeover before the 30 years are up. They did that [granting the lease to Tynmerge Investments] when there was a caretaker council,” said the pastor.
“We are thinking of having a meeting with the minister. Three churches are affected.”
The area’s councillor, Wilson Njanjazi, elected on July 31, said people in his area had been approaching him saying they had heard that minister Chombo was taking over the land.
“I told them that I have not been sworn in. I referred them to the chamber secretary and the town clerk,” Njanjazi said.
Chamber secretary Josephine Ncube said: “I can’t comment. Go through the public relations manager.”
Gathering necessary documents
The MDC’s secretary for local government for Harare province, Warship Dumba, said the outgoing party’s councillor for the area had notified them of the development, but they were going to instruct the incoming council as the granting of the lease was illegal.
Dumba said that they were gathering all the necessary documents with a view of reporting the matter to the Zimbabwe Anti-Corruption Commission.
“The outgoing councillor told us that Chombo wanted the land.
“Even though his name does not appear on the minutes, one way or the other, the minister is answerable, as the Urban Councils Act does not give the caretaker council the power to make such decisions on land. The minister would have the power,” said Dumba.
A Mrs Mbara who works at Harare City Council’s Kuwadzana district council and who has a stand at the now-contested site said she had been granted a lease at the beginning of this year and was not looking forward to the land being taken.
“I am going there to put up a wall to show that the stand is mine,” she said. She refused to comment on the allegations that Chombo may be involved.