By Edgar Gweshe
The Harare City Council stands as one of the most corrupt local authorities in Zimbabwe and of late, there have been arrests of councilors, including the Mayor, Herbert Gomba as well as management officials on allegations of corrupt land deals.
On Monday, councilors from the Housing Department were also arrested on allegations of abuse of office involving illegal land sales.
Their arrest followed the arrest of the Mayor, the Director of Housing, Admore Nhekairo, Human Resources Director, Mathew Marara and Principal Housing Officer, Edgar Dzehonye
Transparency and accountability have largely been lacking at the local authority and corrupt land deals and looting continue at the expense of sustainable development and effective service delivery.
Wetlands have not been spared by the illegal land deals and this poses a huge threat to water availability in Harare as the wetlands serve as sources of water.
The current arrests of councilors and officials at the Harare City Council is however not a new phenomenon.
Arrests of a similar nature have been witnessed over the past years and the fundamental question that remains is what has changed?
Probably nothing and just a case of new faces and old problems at the Harare City Council. Corruption and looting remain the order of the day despite arrests of “corrupt individuals”.
Combined Harare Residents Association (CHRA) Director, Loreen Mupasiri Sani is of the view that besides arresting individuals implicated in corruption, council needs to put in place clear accountability mechanisms and plug loopholes within its operational policy.
She insinuated there is a hidden political motive behind the current arrests of councilors with government seeking to replace MDC Alliance councilors with a Commission.
“The problem at council is not really about personalities but it is an institutional problem which government is choosing to pay a blind eye to because they want a commission to run the affairs of Harare.
“Historically, commissions were the worst in running the affairs of the city and Harare City Council has never recovered from the damage caused by the commissions.
“Government needs to focus on institutional development of the City of Harare otherwise even if new people come in, the existing loopholes in terms of operational policy and institutional systems will still present an opportunity for more corruption,” said Sani.
The last commission to run Harare was appointed in 2003 and was headed by Sekesai Makwavarara. The commission left the city bleeding financially.
Zimbabwe Combined Residents and Ratepayers Association (ZICORRA) Provincial Chairpesron for Harare, Lawrence Kuleya concurred with Sani adding that there is a huge network of individuals behind illicit land deals in Harare hence the need to avoid a one sided approach in dealing with land corruption.
“There are developers with links in council, developers with links at the Ministry of Local Government and other developers hiding under the name of corporates or individuals and all these people are working to acquire land in a corrupt manner.
“All these groups are linked and are competing for available spaces and sometimes they clash because of conflict of interest and we must avoid a one sided approach because some of these groups call for the arrests when their interests are blocked.
“I am not saying councilors and officials are not corrupt but I just want to highlight that we have many groups of corrupt people who are costing council. It is not surprising to see that after these arrests, cooperatives will go into the same areas which got the councilors and other officials arrested,” said Kuleya.
Harare Residents Trust (HRT) Director, Precious Shumba described the arrests at council as a necessary evil in addressing land corruption.
“The ongoing arrests are a necessary evil. However, the arrests must be consistent with the law. There is need to cleanse the council of all forms of corruption. However with all this, there is fear that if most councilors are entangled in the corruption, there are high chances that a commission might be installed in Harare,” said Shumba.
Community Water Alliance Director, Hardlife Mudzingwa said fighting corruption was commendable but highlighted that the fight against graft at council must not be politicized.
Mudzingwa said there are indications that the ongoing arrests have ben politicized hence might not yield the desired results in as far as addressing corrupt land deals is concerned.