News in depth: Shambolic council inventory system opens floodgates for illicit deals in Chitungwiza

Council was recently forced by residents to stop construction work by a private developer at Zengeza 2 bus terminus

A DAY after Chitungwiza mayor Lovemore Maiko convened his first stakeholders’ meeting where he promised to nip corruption in the bud, a gang of workers was seen digging up the area around Zengeza 2 bus terminus for a possible “infrastructural project”.

The development did not go down well with hordes of Chitungwiza residents, who for long have seen council losing vast tracts of land and assets in shady deals involving corrupt workers, politicians and businesspeople.

Residents said they have had enough of corruption and challenged the newly elected councillors to take command of the local authority and steer the ship out of the quagmire.

Successive reports by the auditor general have revealed Chitungwiza Municipality’s failure to maintain proper and updated inventories of all assets and databases of leased properties.

A 2020 report indicated that lack of transparency and accountability in local authorities is all pervasive and millions of dollars could have been lost to mismanagement of funds and assets and to shady land deals.

The report said 42% of governance issues noted in different local authorities emanated from the absence of key policies, and non-compliance with regulations.

A myriad of council officials have over the years either been sacked or arrested for flouting land allocation or real property leasing procedures.

This publication established in an investigation that the multi-million United Family International Church complex built by preacher Emmanuel Makandiwa in Unit D benefited from one of the council's “dirty” deals.

An eight-member team that was appointed to investigate the matter by the Local Government, Urban and Rural Development ministry in 2012 approved the dismissal of the then local authority’s housing director Jemina Gumbo.

Gumbo was charged with illegally changing land use plans from a commercial to a church stand without following the standing procedures and without a council resolution to do so.

 Her case, which came hard on the heels of the firing of former town clerk Godfrey Tanyanyiwa for corruption exposed systemic corruption within Chitungwiza Municipality.

A source within the local authority said the Makandiwa land saga was a tip of the iceberg.

“Council has been losing its assets and land through illicit deals and these include the Chigovanyika Service Station, owned by Zanu PF MP Phillip Guyo, which was awarded under irregular allocation procedures,” said the source.

“The mayoral mansion situated opposite Zuva Service Station at Makoni shopping centre was sold for a song and fraudulently to some private investor for the construction of a shopping mall.

“The Peyama Investments stands near Guzha shopping centre, commonly known as Chikwanha, where more than 30 commercial stands were sold by Wellington Peyama via council, yet the land belonged to the state.”

The source said council has in the last decade lost vast tracts of land worth billions of dollars in illicit deals.

“Council employees and politicians were taking advantage of the chaotic inventory system and creating residential stands which they would sell for personal gain,” said a former land baron.

“We collaborated with council workers in the planning department and we would sell residential stands to home seekers from outside the council headquarters.

“At that point the local authority had suspended use of the housing waiting list and any home seeker was referred to us by council staff.

“Open spaces, football grounds and areas reserved for schools and shops were sold by individuals and council was prejudiced of millions of dollars.”

Investigations carried by The Standard established that the local authority was on the verge of losing or has lost a number of assets, including Waterland, Unit J shops complex, Zengeza 3 council crèche, Zengeza 4 Gomba market, Zengeza 3 shops market and Zengeza 5, among others.

Work by a private player to convert the Zengeza 2 bus terminus was stopped by council.

Chitungwiza and Manyame Residents Association (Camera) director Marvelous Kumalo expressed residents’ dissatisfaction because of the grand looting that has taken place at Chitungwiza Municipality over the last two decades.

“As Camera, we are disappointed that council has not done enough to secure its properties from potential theft and abuse,” Kumalo said.

“Council does not have an up-to-date asset inventory system making it difficult to know how many properties are owned by council.

“For those that it knows, most of them are not properly maintained and are in a state of dilapidation.

“Some are being leased out to people or companies that are earning huge profits at the expense of council.

“We propose that council institutes an investigation into the state of its properties to determine how many they are, what they are being used for and are they benefiting council among other matters of interest.”

As part of the investigations, The Standard established that prominent man-of-the-cloth Stephen Mugariri, popularly known as Madzibaba Stephen, features prominently in some of the illicit deals.

According to council documents, a council beerhall at Zengeza 2 is leased by Mugariri, but indications on the ground show that there is a third party operating at the outlet, which has also been turned into a car park.

Mugariri is among a group of powerful individuals benefiting from illicit council deals.

This publication established that most businesses operating from rented Chitungwiza Municipality properties were sitting on long expired lease agreements and were also not paying rent.

At some point the cleric is said to have shut out the third party from using the Zengeza 2 beerhall over a botched liquor licence deal.

When contacted for comment over the lease agreement pertaining to the Zengeza 2 beerhall, Chitungwiza Municipality public relations officer Lovemore Meya confirmed that Mugariri was indeed the one leasing the outlet.

“Kindly find out from the lessee Stephen Mugariri,” Meya said.

“We signed the lease agreement, but he hasn’t occupied it yet.”

Several visits to the beerhall showed that a third party was renting the premises from a man only identified as “Captain”.

Mugariri at some point threatened to turn the Zengeza 2 bus terminus into a shopping mall.

However, investigations by The Standard showed that it involves a businessman operating close to the area.

However, mayor Maiko said council had stopped work by the private developer at the terminus. 

“With respect to the Zengeza 2 bus terminus, our position as council is that it remains a bus terminus and nothing else,” Maiko said.

“A development, which was taking place, was directed by our officials to be stopped so that we can verify what could have happened for such a development to take place.”

The mayor said council has an inventory management system in place.

“We have an inventory management system although it is not harmonised,” Maiko said.

“We intend to have it harmonised to ensure it can be easily updated and followed through.

“We have put up a programme to digitalise provisions of goods and services of council, for instance a digitised waiting list and allocation thereof including management of council properties.

“This will uphold the principles of transparency and accountability.

“Through digitalisation council would be able to curb corruption and plug loopholes for other illicit deals.”

Maiko said the council will soon have a status report on the current state of council properties and that would be made public.

Meya said Chitungwiza Municipality has migrated from manual to online having established a local authority digital system.

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