By Nqobile Tshili
There has been a public outcry after the Bulawayo City Council (BCC) offered the Mayor, Councillor Solomon Mguni 3,5 hectares of agricultural land in Lower Rangemore under a 25-year lease at $165 per month rent.
Residents accused the local authority officials of abusing privileges and parcelling out land to cronies at what they described as ridiculously low rentals.
However, some agronomists have argued that the council rentals are much higher than those charged for State agricultural land leases.
Some residents have widely circulated on social media an advert confirming the 25-year land lease being offered to Clr Mguni, arguing that it is tantamount to corruption.
According to the notice flighted on May 29, Bulawayo Town Clerk Mr Christopher Dube revealed that that Clr Mguni has been offered a land lease in Rangemore for agricultural purposes on plot Lot 3 of Lot 3 Lower Rangemore.
The lease is for an initial 25-year period while monthly rentals are pegged at $165, subject to review.
The notice states that residents objecting to the proposed lease should submit their written submissions at Tower Block by end of today at the Director of Housing and Community Services offices.
The land should only be used for agricultural purposes.
Mr Dube yesterday said he can only comment after the closure of the period for objections.
Clr Mguni said the offer was above board.
He said his application was born from his passion for agriculture.
“I’ve a passion for agriculture so I applied for land just like any other resident of Bulawayo. Council has an urban agriculture masterplan, so I applied just like any resident could have done. The processes went through all relevant committees and I did not influence the allocation.
“I was not even in any committee that discussed the matter and when it was brought before the full council meeting, I was not there. To me I think this was above board,” said Clr Mguni.
He said residents have a say on rates or rentals charged for council land hence it was their right to query the rentals if the felt they were too low.
Residents said it did not make sense that council leases prime land for as little as $165 a month for 3,5 hectares.
Mr Methuseli Moyo, whose interests are in farming, said the lease fees were ridiculously low and could result in residents thinking that they kept them that way in order to corruptly benefit.
He said council should review its tariff structure and charge commercial rates for agriculture land in order to realise real value from this finite resource.
“The rates are just too low considering the rates being charged by some farmers who are leasing their farms. This can lead residents to conclude that council officials are deliberately charging low rates so that they benefit from leasing the land for commercial purposes,” he said,
Bulawayo Progressive Residents Association (BPRA) coordinator Mr Emmanuel Ndlovu said they will object to the lease offer.
“We are objecting as residents outlining our reasons including abuse of privilege. We are of the view that he is abusing his privilege as Mayor given that no individual monthly council bill is less than $300 per month.
“What then is the justification to charge $165 a month for 3,5 hectares? Council should be utilising such land to generate revenue instead of abusing the land to benefit a few,” said Mr Ndlovu.
He said as an association they were not aware of the criteria used to allocate land.
“Are the council officials the only ones who applied for those properties? Is it not a conflict of interest where properties are given to individuals who decide how much should be charged as rentals?” said Mr Ndlovu.
An agricultural expert who declined to be named for professional reasons said while it might seem as though the mayor is being offered land for ‘a song’, the rentals are way higher than what is charged for State land.
“I’m a beneficiary of State land, I received five hectares from Government and I am paying just $5 per hectare for the whole year. I believe what council is charging are very competitive rates for agricultural land.
“I also understand that after council increased its rates people like the mayor with 3,5 hectares will be paying $1 600 per month. What is appearing in the advert for objections are old rates,” said the expert.
Matabeleland North Provincial Agritex officer Mr Dumisani Nyoni said the last time he checked, State land was being leased for about $5 per hectare per year. The Chronicle