HARARE City Council (HCC)’s illegal million-dollar land deals could claim the scalps of more top officials and councillors amid allegations that their syndicates were illegally parcelling out recreational open spaces across the capital for a song without seeking authority from government, NewsDay Weekender has learnt.

BY DESMOND CHINGARANDE

The alleged scams recently landed HCC’s head of planning Priscilla Charumbira (pictured) in the eye of a storm after she irregularly changed land use plan for open spaces in Sunningdale and along Samora Machel Avenue and allocated the land to acolytes and friends at the expense of the public.

The move could render Metro Peech wholesale in Sunningdale and service stations built in residential locations at the Harare Exhibition Centre (Harare Showground) along Samora Machel as “illegal structures” after she reportedly failed to seek the authority of her superiors and the Local Government and Public Works ministry sometime in 2016.

The land where Metro Peech has built its wholesale was a recreational open space which was unprocedurally turned into a commercial zone, while residential spaces were illegally turned into commercial.Charumbira was also accused of unprocedurally allocating an open space opposite Harare Quarry to one Chisvo.

Charumbira, who is wife to Chiefs’ Council president Fortune Charumbira, was also accused of allocating herself two acres of land at the corner of High Glen and Gleneagles road, ignoring the fact that the town planner had initially reserved it as an open space.

But Charumbira yesterday dismissed the allegations as malicious and bent on tarnishing her professional image.“The allegations are all denied,” she said.

“Coming specifically to the sites being referred to, I was not involved in the processing and approval of those plans. The record will show that the plans were approved during the time I had been re-assigned to the newly created position of land management and development manager.”

Charumbira added: “These are malicious and blatant lies bent on tarnishing my professional image. This emanates from the fact that the investigators from the municipal police through the town clerk’s office and ZRP CID [Zimbabwe Republic Police Criminal Investigations Department] identified me as one of the people who can act as a credible expert witness on town planning standard operating procedures.”

She further said it was trite to note that all plans were approved by council first through council resolutions before the city planner could sign.Charumbira added that all the procedures on the said open spaces were followed.

“There is no issue here. Barapate and Wakewill is an independent company where my husband is a share holder with others. One, the company procedurally applied to lease (not buying) land at the corner of Gleneagles and High Glen roads to park haulage trucks,” she said.

“Two, the lease has not yet been finalised (the lease is yet to be signed). The finance committee and full council have already resolved to lease the stand. All the documents are available for inspection which are: (i) The company application letter stamped for receipt by the relevant finance department; (ii) the report to council recommending for lease; (iii) the council resolution approving the lease; (iv) the approved layout plan indicating that the land is for lease purposes only and as outlined in the permit the land will revert to its use when required for its use; (v) since the land is to be used for temporary parking purposes, there is no need for change of use from a town planning point of view. Change of use is only required if the land is for sale to build permanent structures; and (vi)the plan was procedurally processed and it was not me who approved it having indicated my interest. That is how these people who are tarnishing my image got to know because everything was done above board with full transparency.”

According to the council by-laws, Charumbira was supposed to apply for the change of land use for such an area, among others.

Documents show that Charumbira unlawfully allocated the open spaces along Chitungwiza road at a time she was head of the planning department, acting chief planner and acting director.
She was acting in all three positions in the absence of substantive officials.

It is alleged after allocating the open spaces, she advertised the land in the newspaper but did not give out enough information about the land in question.

On plan, it was discovered that plan number TP/CR/19/16 was indicated as an open space in council’s records despite the land now being used for commercial purposes.

“After the Metro Peech allocation, she again presided over the allocation of an open space along Seke Road which was meant for recreational purposes for SPCA [Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals] without following due process,” the documents show.

It is alleged Charumbira, in connivance with suspended city director of works, Isiah Zvenyika Chawatama, oversaw another unprocedural allocation of an open space for the construction of a library in Glen Norah suburb.

The two allegedly tampered with the initial lay-out plan, alleging that former Harare mayor Herbert Gomba was in the know.

“The syndicate knew that it was an open space, but they went ahead with the allocation without going through due process. They did this to fund the mayor’s campaign for ward 27 council elections under MDC Alliance in 2018,” the source said.

Charumbira and Chawatama were also accused of approving construction of two service stations along Harare-Bulawayo Road (Samora Machel), opposite Harare Showgrounds (Exhibition Centre) — one of them allegedly built on an open space which was meant for residential flats.

It was also alleged that Charumbira, Chawatama and Gomba used one Vutuza to proceed with planning for the two service stations yet, what they approved was not in the council’s records.
NewsDay Weekender understands that no application for approval to the Local Government ministry for change of land use was made.

Local Government minister July Moyo was not picking calls, but his deputy, Marian Chombo, said she would check with the Department of Physical Planning on whether change of land use was applied for.

“I can check on Monday, I am not in the office,” Chombo said.

One of Metro Peech directors, Barry Brown said: “I am not the owner of the land, I am a tenant. I checked with the owner of the land and they told me the deal was signed when Bernard Manyenyeni was still mayor of Harare. I cannot say anything more than that.”

Contacted for comment, Manyenyeni yesterday said: “I signed a lot of papers when I was mayor of Harare. I only saw the Metro Peech this week when I was going to Chitungwiza. I can’t remember all the papers I signed. I don’t even know the owner of the land.”

Newly-elected Harare mayor Jacob Mafume said he was still familiarising himself with the documents and needed to peruse relevant council minutes to come up with an informed
response.

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