The recent arrest of former Minister Ignatius Chombo on allegations of abuse of office stemming from the Uchena Land report is the culmination of how a noble project has been seriously bastardised by the government.
President Mnangagwa’s government has reduced a noble project, which was supposed to bring transparency and clarity to land issues, into a mere political instrument used from under their desks.
This is not to say Chombo should not be arrested but the selective use of the Uchena report, atomised in the selective arrests of specific politicians and not all indicted is the fault.
It is alleged Chombo grabbed land illegally in Harare’s Philadelphia, Order, Carrie Craigh, Stornridge Farm, Haydon and Kia Ora Farm in Zvimba using his influence as a government official.
Chombo also faces one count of fraud after he duped desperate land seekers of unspecified amount of money which was deposited into his Agribank personal account.
He denied all charges being levelled against him.
“I deny the charges in their entirety. I believe that these charges have been extracted from the report of the Land Commission headed by Justice (Tendai) Uchena. I responded extensively, in writing, to these allegations when I appeared before the aforesaid Commission,” Chombo said in response to the charges.
A Multitude of Land Barons
The Land Commission executive summary shows that there were gross violations and criminal acts by people and agencies involved in the allocation — more like grabbing — of urban land that the government had given over for sale from 2005, which is the period from which the commission’s work was marked off to begin.
170 farms valued at around US$3 billion were given for sale but the state received less than 10% of the amount.
President Mnangagwa was given the report with all these details.
His bureaucracy also shared it with the security agencies, namely the police, army and central intelligence.
The Zimbabwe Anti-Corruption Commission also got a copy. It also looks like line ministers — not the permanent secretaries — also received copies.
The moment you confine such an important document to ministers and sideline the bureaucracy, the whole thing becomes political.
The results are manifesting now as we are seeing the selective application of the law by the arrest of an out of favour politician like Chombo whilst the actual report named many some who are still in power.
The President was supposed to bring into the public domain the report and act upon it.
Hiding it and using its findings against opponents has been the suspicion of many since the report vanished almost two years ago and today those fears are being realised.
It’s unfortunate that the supposed new dispensation, heralded by anti-corruption rhetoric, is already failing to implement such an admin-defining project.
Fulfilling the recommendations of the Uchena report by investigating the multiple politicians who are named there, openly and fairly, would have done this tottering government a lot of good.
The government is still fighting for legitimacy and acceptance 3 years after elections and acting nobly in implementing the report would win it some respect and dignity.
However, hunting opponents armed with a report whose full contents they have hidden from the public, is the ultimate act of cowardice and smacks of them being midget politicians with no spine to stand for principles.