Patrick Chitumba, Midlands Bureau Chief
FORMER Midlands Provincial Affairs Minister Jason Machaya and provincial planning officer Chaisayanyerwa Chibururu were yesterday each sentenced to 48 months imprisonment for criminal abuse of office.
Machaya (68) and Chibururu (50), were on Monday convicted for unlawfully allocating 17 799 stands to land developers in Gokwe town, who in turn gave them 1 000 stands worth US$900 000 which was computed as ZW$900 000.
The court ruled against an application by the State for the accused persons to pay restitution of 1 000 stands to Gokwe town saying they had benefited nothing from the criminal abuse of office charges.
The court also ruled against the State’s application to call to the witness stand a Government estate evaluator to give the new value of the stands.
Machaya and Chibururu were dressed in khaki prison garb and were in leg irons after spending the night at Whawha Medium Prison.
They appeared before Gwanda provincial magistrate Ms Charity Maphosa sitting at the Gweru magistrate courts.
Machaya and Chibururu, who pleaded not guilty, were convicted due to overwhelming evidence.
Their bid to be discharged at the close of the State’s case was rejected when Ms Maphosa ruled that they had a case to answer.
Passing her ruling before sentencing the duo, Ms Maphosa said no evaluation officer was going to be called to testify.
“Yesterday the State made an application for an Estate evaluator to be called to testify for the purposes of evaluating the value of the 1 000 stands that are subject to the trial. The reason for the State was that it will have the effect of reducing the value placed from US$900 000 to about US$390 000. The defence counsel refused and said re-evaluation was subject to dispute as even during trial, the State failed to differentiate the stands, be it commercial or residential and that figure didn’t state the stands paid for commonage.”
She added: “The court will uphold the decision and finds that the issue of the value of the stands is material but not at this stage. Therefore, the figure on the State outline will remain as that. So, the State has to cut its losses and leave the value as it is at US$900 000.”
Turning to the restitution order demanded by the State, Ms Maphosa said there was no actual prejudice to the extent that the court can make an order for restitution.
In passing sentence, Ms Maphosa said it should be noted that Machaya committed the offence before he reached retirement age of 65.
She said the court should be alive to the fact that exercising extreme leniency on the basis of age will send the wrong message to other elderly people in high ranking positions who will award themselves or empower themselves at the expense of service delivery.
“To give a lenient sentence will send a wrong message to the community that the courts have adopted a catch and release approach to high profile figures and that must be rectified. Already society seems to have lost faith in judiciary service. There should be no sacred cows and an appropriate sentence is imprisonment. No order for restitution as indicated will be given,” she said.
Ms Maphosa said criminal abuse of office is a serious offence, adding that corruption can not continue to be handled with kid gloves.
The two accused persons, she said, are public officers, with Chibururu still employed by the Local Government and Public Works ministry as a planning officer.
“The two are public officers who took 1 000 stands and unduly gave them to a friend at the detriment of the community that was supposed to benefit from the national housing scheme. They violated the trust they had been given by the Government. They were supposed to drive the Government programme but ended up frustrating the same.
“They are not persons of need and only greed and selflessness drove them to commit this offence and they are both sentenced to 48 months in prison of which 18 months each are suspended on condition of good behaviour. They will serve effectively 30 months in prison,” she said.
Mr Alec Muchadehama representing both Machaya and Chibururu immediately told the court that he had instructions from his clients to launch an appeal against both conviction and sentence. He said he wanted to appeal for bail for his clients before Ms Maphosa.
“May the court adjourn so that I launch an appeal against both constriction and sentence. After that I want to make a bail application for my clients before this same court,” said Mr Muchadehama.
In response, Ms Maphosa ruled against the motion by Mr Muchadehama.
“Until such time they act, we work accordingly. We can’t commit ourselves to something that is not formally in the system. At this juncture, the court can’t adjourn in anticipation of your filing the document. At this stage the matter can’t be stood down, it’s unprecedented and the court adjourns,” she said, sending the gallery into complete silence.
It was the State’s case that between 2011 and 2017 Machaya used his official powers to acquire 1 000 residential stands that were available in Mapfungautsi suburb of Gokwe town.
The court heard that the area is under Gokwe Town Council Administration and Machaya’s conduct is alleged to have been contrary to Government policy which authorises the Local Government Ministry to acquire only 10 percent of residential stands.
It was alleged that due to Machaya’s conduct, Gokwe Town Council lost revenue in respect of 700 stands.
Machaya reportedly further imposed a land developer, Striations World Marketing Property Developers, to service and sell stands without following proper tender procedures.
According to State papers, in 2013, Machaya made verbal demands to Gokwe Town Council to release 1 000 stands as opposed to written requests made by the Local Government Ministry.
Chibururu working in cahoots with Machaya drew plans before the stands were allocated to private land developers.