Local Govt Ministry: Engine of land allocation corruption
By MARTIN NYIRENDA -
REPORTS of illegal land allocation by some councils amplify the depth of corruption in the Local Government Ministry and other line institutions in the public service.
It has been proved vitally that illegal land allocation was an inside job involving officers working for relevant Government ministries and departments, something that boggles the Patriotic Front (PF) administration as much as it did with its predecessor, the MMD.
Poor administration of land amalgamated with the hand of some corrupt council officers has become so complex with the potential to cripple and defeat the access and right to equitable State land distribution.
As much as illegal land allocation perseveres to savagely distort the national economic growth patterns, reports of councillors who are actively involved in illegal land allocation continue to hit screaming news headlines.
It is against this rather sad scenario that Kalulushi Municipal Council Mayor Howard Simpemba reminds councillors to avoid involving themselves in the illegal land practice because it was detrimental to national development.
“Let’s maintain the spirit and the pace at which we are moving on the issues of land, let not a mayor or councillor allocate land to the people,” he warns.
To him, civic leaders should instead stay away from land allocation and leave the job to council technocrats.
Mr Simpemba said this when he addressed the secondary Ordinary Meeting for the Kalulushi Municipal Council.
He said Government, through the council, was making frantic strides to correct the macabre situation in a concerted initiative to purely restore the lost and now dim integrity in the land allocation processes.
Councillors should strive to lead exemplary lives because of the bad perception created by the public due to dishonesty. But the teething blight of illegal land allocation is deep-rooted.
Almost all councils across the spine of the country have a fair share of the quandary which has relentlessly undermined the very tenets of equal access to land, especially among the ordinary members of society.
This is simply sad. Sad because only a few corrupt council officers were benefitting at the expense of the majority of us all put together!
Interposed with astute concern marked with a lace of anger, Local Government and Housing Deputy Minister Forrie Tembo says Government was not sleeping over the matter of corruption in all sectors and that anyone found wanting – more especially in the land allocation exercise – would face the wrath of the long arm of the law.
Some councillors at Kabwe Municipal Council have been upbeat illegally allocating land for selfish and personal gain, something which forced Mr Tembo to order management at the local authority to vigorously investigate and bring to book councillors allegedly engaged in the illegal allocation of land.
Mr Tembo attests that illegal allocation of land was rampant for many reasons in the district (and so common at several local government outfits).
He pledged to reverse the corrupt situation and bring sanity in the processes applied in land allocation.
“The council should investigate the councillors who are said to have been engaged in the illegal allocation of land and the law should take its course,” he says.
Corrupt land allocation schemes at Kabwe Municipal Council were only a lean side of the national predicament where some councillors and other civic leaders in various districts have continued to perpetuate the practice.
Chingola District Council was recently hit by the corrupt hand in illegal land allocation by its councillors, especially in Kasompe area.
The Chingola land scam was exposed during the Sixth National Development Plan (SNDP) 2010-2015 committee meeting, roundly defining the depth of abuse of authority by some irresponsible council officers was rampant.
Recently, police arrested an officer from the same council for illegally issuing a piece of land to two persons. I contacted several councillors in Kitwe, Ndola and Lusaka who all declined to comment, arguing that they share the concerns raised by the minister of Lands that illegal land allocation involving some councillors was rampant in councils.
The councillors said it would be naive of them to comment on illegal land allocation after the relevant ministers have already identified the need to purge the system used to administer State land.
Senior Chief Ishindi of the Lunda people of Zambezi complained that he was under the weather and tired that Zambezi District Council was in the ill-habit of allocating plots in customary land without his permission.
While Senior Chief Chiwala of Masaiti District recently exposed a cartel of unscrupulous people who were engaged in fraudulently distributing land in his chiefdom involving thousands of hectares, Government’s efforts to abate the rot should be supported.
The traditional leader told me in an interview that he was writing to Government investigative wings and other relevant institutions to help him come up with a formidable report on how land was illegally acquired in his chiefdom.
He vowed to engage the Ministry of Agriculture, Lands Department and Anti-Corruption Commission (ACC) to help him get to the root of the land scandal which forced him to cancel all land permits and further suspend issuance of title deeds and demarcation of land.
My exploration into the matter, after perusing through forged documents at his palace which were crafted to be used as legal documents to obtain title deeds from Government, grimly showed that illegally acquired land in the chiefdom effectively involved the in-out-of some corrupt public officials from the local authority and public departments.
Kitwe District Land Alliance (KDLA) coordinator Jestina Kunda calls on the Ministry of Lands to urgently audit the councils and ensure that local authorities account for the money collected to service plots because the current land allocation system was gravely flawed.
Ms Kunda tells me that Government’s decision to suspend allocation of sub-serviced plots of land by local authorities was a welcome development, adding that it was paramount that people should demand the Land Policy from their members of Parliament (MPs) in order to know the guidelines on how land was being managed in the country.
She complains that the Land Policy, which has been in draft form since 2007, was not a working document.
“KDLA wonders how the Government has continued to administer land without a policy because the policy gives guide to the Land Act. The absence of the Land Policy has resulted in a lot of gaps in the manner land is being administered and that is how there are a lot of disputes surrounding land allocation and management,” she argues.
In 2010, an inter-ministerial taskforce was formed to address land acquisition with the prime role of looking at matters relating to land administration and its acquisition.
This came at the heels of the lofty rate at which land was corruptly exchanging oiled-hands with money.
Copperbelt Minister Mwenya Musenge tells me that illegal land allocation was a chief problem that should be fought from all angles and that Government was putting in place strategies to address all forms of corruption in councils.
He was comfortably aware of corruption in society and by extension, Minister Musenge says he was also aware that some cartels had been forced in the councils to the extent of defrauding the Constituency Development Fund (CDF) and vehemently articulated public concern.
He assures that Government was closing in on the culprits. Some people have been informed that the land belongs to another person despite having letters of offer from the council.
There have been cases in Lusaka and elsewhere where the registers may reflect two people holding on title deeds for the same land.
With the current illegal land allocation dilemma, Lands Minister Wylbur Simuusa says Government will only start allocating land banks meant for commercial purposes after a land audit has been concluded which was expected to start in August last year and that those implicated in the land scam would be forced to dance to the legal gauntlet.
Aptly so, Minister Simuusa’s suspension of allocation of land by all councils in the country was not a stray attempt to halt the bane.
As Government confronts the plaque, there is also every need to generate massive public sensitisation among all stakeholders on the need to acquire land using legally applied mechanisms.
More so, Government should make the broom at all councils in the country sweep out the putrid progeny which has formed to steal State land from the poor.
Otherwise, the question to ponder which also supplicates obvious rejoins remains: Is the hand of some councillors going to continue to be a ripe recipe to accelerate official antics associated illegal land allocation.