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Land scandal erupts

Syndicate of top officials in lands ministry pocketing US$20 million annually from desperate land seekers

Dr John Bhasera, permanent secretary, Ministry of Lands, Agriculture, Water and Rural Resettlement.

Desperate land seekers are losing US$20m annually to a syndicate of top officials in the ministry of Lands, Agriculture, Water and Rural Resettlement which is preying on the rising demand for land, Business Times can report.

The scandal, which observers say is a tip of the iceberg, has seen a team of top officers manning the Provincial Lands Offices carrying out their own land audit without the knowledge of principals.

Observers said the land scam soils the land redistribution exercise carried out 20 years ago to give the means of production to the previously marginalised Zimbabweans.

During the process, a number of farmers have seen their land either being downsized or reallocated without following proper procedure.

The syndicate is a well-oiled machine consisting of headmen and traditional Chiefs working in connivance with Provincial Land Officers.

Some Lands Officers have since been reshuffled across the country as the government looks at curbing rising corruption in land allocations.

Investigations by Business Times revealed that this syndicate has taken advantage of the rising demand in farming land and they have been undertaking their own land auditing exercise that has seen most farmers losing their land.

This syndicate has also sucked in agriculture ministry officials stationed at the Legal Department.

Those in need of land are being asked to fork out around US$3000 to US$5000 to secure a piece of land and the money is allegedly being shared among the ministry officials and the traditional leaders who are used in identifying land suitable to exploit.

It is estimated that the agriculture ministry has over 100,000 land seekers on the waiting list.

Evaluators within the agriculture ministry are of the opinion that unsuspecting farmers are losing over US$20m yearly to land officers.

Beneficiaries of this syndicate are being issued offer letters with a government of Zimbabwe letterhead thereby substantiating the fact that lands officials are actually involved.

A number of complaints have been raised in Mashonaland East where Lands Officers stationed in Marondera are being accused of downsizing and re-allocating farms without following proper procedure and without the knowledge of their principals.

In some instances, they come with an instruction purported to be from the legal department to either reallocate or downsize the land.

Business Times spoke to a farmer in Mashonaland West who noted that this syndicate has been receiving payment in either cash or cattle.

“Officials from the Lands Office have been carrying out a separate audit and this has seen most farmers losing their land under unclear circumstances.

There has been unsanctioned downsizing and reallocation of land especially among A1 and A2 farmers.

“The state is actually being prejudiced of millions by this criminal syndicate and we have since registered our displeasure around this issue,” said a farmer who requested anonymity for fear of victimisation.

Mashonaland East Provincial Affairs minister Apolonia Munzverengi noted that there was a programme aimed at identifying idle land.

“I have not been furnished with the details but going forward I am going to look into the matter.

It has been a government directive that we have to look around for idle land and oversized farms but the fact that some lands officers have gone ahead to start allocating land for their personal benefit is tantamount to corruption,” Munzverengi said.

Agriculture minister Anxious Masuka recently told Parliament that the government has reviewed the policy on allocation of vacant land and restructured the Provincial and District Lands committees to curb rampant corruption.

The revised guidelines on allocation of land will target multiple farm owners, abandoned farms, derelict land, underutilised farms and productive farms that are above farm size.

“So regarding the specific measures to fight corruption, we have undertaken the unsavoury reshuffling of officers at provincial level.

During the past two weeks we have redeployed all the provincial land officers.

However, reports continue of corrupt district land officers.

“We must highlight at this stage that reshuffling them does not solve the problem but delays the manifestation of the problem at the next post and in time, I think that we need to look at dealing with the issue as it occurs where there is enough evidence,” Masuka was quoted saying.

In Goromonzi, Ivordale ward, a group of six farmers approached the Lands Office in Harare registering displeasure on the downsizing of their land after failing to get enough help from Marondera Provincial Lands Office.

“The undersigned six Saratoga Farm plot holders have today visited your office to find out which government land exercise or programme has led to the downsizing of our very small plots which were lawfully allocated in 2001,”read part of the letter seen by Business Times.

“We also want to know the justification of the process only affecting a few plot holders to give the created space to friends and relatives at the expense of bonafide land owners.

We strongly suspect that the village head and Goromonzi Lands Officer have received money from the land seekers and now want to downsize our land.”

Goromonzi Lands Officer Wilfred Bika who has been implicated in a number of disputed land cases in the district since 2009 denied the allegations and requested a face to face interaction.

“We are not carrying out such exercises and I haven’t been in Saratoga for a while and I didn’t downsize anyone’s land nor removed anyone from the farm.

However, I prefer not to discuss this subject matter on the phone,” Bika said.

Business Times is informed that the Harare Lands Office has since instituted an investigation on the issues raised and will begin farm visits this week, starting today (Thursday).

The National lands office under the ministry of agriculture has promised to deal with matters raised decisively with suspected perpetrators risking facing jail time or expulsion.

The ministry’s permanent secretary John Bhasera said: “We have not received such reports but now that we have been made aware of such issues then we are going to look into the issues raised and deal with them decisively.” – Business Times.

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