Meikles Park deal under probe

Ignatius Chombo

ZIMBABWE Anti-Corruption Commission investigators are zooming into the contentious Meikles Park deal and probe how Mutare City Council ceded the lucrative piece of land to a Mutare businessman under the instructions of the then Minister of Local Government, Public Works and National Housing, Dr Ignatius Chombo, in 2014.

The park – an open space – is situated at the heart of the eastern border city, forming the nucleus of the Central Business District. Investigators visited the Civic Centre recently and asked the local authority to avail all documents regarding the deal which was strongly opposed by residents but allegedly forced through by Dr Chombo. Town Clerk, Mr Joshua Maligwa, revealed on Wednesday that council had already given the anti-corruption watchdog relevant documents regarding the matter.

Dr Chombo, who is facing several other corruption cases in Harare, allegedly parcelled the park to businessman, Chikanga-Dangamvura legislator Cde Isau Mupfumi in 2014 through his company, Stallvic Enterprises (Private) Limited on a lease-to-purchase arrangement.

As part of the deal, which was strongly opposed by councillors, the local authority was compensated with 29 hectares of State land for ceding the park which measures 13 583 square metres to the legislator, who is now leasing it from the Ministry of Local Government, Public Works and National Housing.

When Mupfumi took ownership of the park vendors demonstrated against the deal. The National Social Security Authority also opposed the move claiming ownership of the same piece of land. It lodged its case at the High Court but council argued that it had long repossessed the park after NSSA failed to develop it within the stipulated time. The case is pending at the High Court.

When he took ownership of the park, Cde Mupfumi promised to construct a five-star hotel and a car park. This was after the ministry – on April 23, 2014 – wrote to Stallvic Enterprises: “We are pleased to offer you the land commonly known as Meikles Park in Mutare reservation of 27 on the lease with option to purchase basis. However, please note that the ministry will offer you a four-year lease agreement when you have paid the annual rental of $68 100. We hope that you will urgently pay the said amount so that you can get your lease agreement in order to commence construction.”

When the new Town Clerk, Mr Maligwa, assumed office early this year, the Meikles Park deal was still pending and causing problems at the Civic Centre. According to a memo written by the Acting Director of Engineering and Technical Services, Mr Richard Simbi – dated 11 December 2017 and addressed to the Chamber Secretary, Mr Cephas Vuta – in which he tried to enlighten the new administration on the contentious issue, Mr Simbi said the disposal of the Meikles Park, which was ordinarily supposed to be done by his department, was handled in the Town Clerk’s office. Mr Obert Muzawazi was the town clerk then.

Wrote Mr Simbi: “The disposal of the land (Meikles Park) between Mutare City Council and the Ministry of Local Government was handled in the Town Clerk’s office. Initially the land was supposed to be sold to a Chinese company. At that time the land was valued at $1,5 million. The Chinese company did not take up the offer citing the high price. Council refused to reduce the selling price (and) the deal failed,” reads the letter.

Sources revealed that ZACC officials are keen to understand whether all processes and procedures were observed to ensure compliance with the Urban Council’s Act when the land swap deal was entered into and the subsequent leasing of the park to Cde Mupfumi. In his report, Mr Simbi said no valuation was done regarding the land swap – a procedure which was necessary to ensure that the local authority was going to be compensated with a fair portion that equals the actual value of the Meikles Park it was ceding.

When contacted for comment Mupfumi said the matter was still before the High Court and commenting on it would be sub-judice.

“This case is at the High Court and a ruling will be made soon,” he said. – Manica Post