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Time Bank land dispute rages on

Local private firm, TBIC Investments (Pvt) Ltd (TBIC), which owns re-licensed financial institution, Time Bank, has written to the Land Commission of Zimbabwe protesting against alleged unlawful conduct by the State body’s officials.

Time Bank Zimbabwe
Time Bank Zimbabwe

The complaint relates to actions of some Land Commission officials regarding alleged irregular recommendation to the Minister of Lands, Agriculture, Water, Climate and Rural Resettlement on the ownership of a piece of land known as the remaining extent of the Stuhm, in Goromonzi.

The property was owned by TBIC before Government acquired the property as agriculture land for redistribution under the land reform programme.

TBIC argues that the commission’s officials were complicit in the unlawful recommendation in favour of one Onias Gumbo, who once had a dispute with the company over some of the firm’s properties and was paid US$2,6 million under an out of court settlement mediated by the Office of the Attorney General.

But despite being fully paid for his claim against the company, TBIC says Mr Gumbo later sought the Land Commission’s help in misrepresenting to the Minister of Lands, Perrance Shiri that he was the rightful owner of the remaining extent of the Stuhm property before the Government took the land and that the land should be returned to him.

This happened after the new administration passed new regulations allowing indigenous blacks who lost their land under the Government’s land reform programme to apply for their land to be returned.

Mr Gumbo allegedly applied for the land although he was not legally entitled to such claim.

However, Mr Gumbo dismissed the claims by TBIC as “nonsensical” and demanded evidence which shows that the agreements brokered by the Attorney General related to the Stuhm property, adding the said agreements related to different properties, which had nothing to do with TBIC.

But TBIC insists that certain officials of the commission wrote, allegedly under instruction from Mr Gumbo, to Minister Shiri misrepresenting facts on the ownership of the land property. Efforts to get a comment from the lands minister or the commission were not successful by time of going to print yesterday.

Notably, the ownership and occupation of the Stuhm was already the subject of a Constitutional Court case under which TBIC is disputing its acquisition under the land reform exercise.

TBIC insists it was the rightful owner of the land, which it has had possession of since 1999, and had already been issued with a subdivision permit by Government, proceeding to subdivide it into residential stands, with some already sold.

The land, TBIC said, should have never been allocated as agriculture land during the land reform programme in 2005 in terms of Constitutional Amendment Number 17, since the property was already designated as township land.

“The commission’s letter to the minister was unlawful, because in terms of the principles of natural justice or the “Audi alteram partem rule”, it is a legal requirement that the commission should have given us our right to respond to such allegations before it recommended its decision to the Minister of Lands,” TBIC wrote.

TBIC has since demanded withdrawal of the letter written to the Ministry of Lands, which recommended Mr Gumbo as the rightful owner of the property and wants to be given its right of response to the claims by Mr Gumbo and copies that he submitted supporting his claims of ownership of the said land.

Interesting, Mr Gumbo said he did not know of any dispute with TBIC relating to the Stuhm property, adding he had only been paid for his shares in Unitime, Shopex and other different firms.

“I have no dispute with anyone regarding the said property. Do the agreements I had for Shoppex and Unitime firm have anything to do with (TBIC)? Those agreements have nothing to do with anyone,” Mr Gumbo said.

He also rebutted claims that he had influenced the Land Commission to misrepresent to the Ministry of Land to transfer the land to him. He also claimed that initial agreements signed with TBIC were later reversed.

“You must have a background of what transpired and not just accept baseless claims. I have nothing to do with TBIC and that whole nonsense they are claiming. The mediation by the AG’s Office had nothing to do with (TBIC), but Shoppex and Unitime,” he said.

The company has also demanded to know what actions will be taken against the commission’s officials for their alleged unlawful conduct and wants the matter to be handled in an unbiased way beyond any reasonable doubt.

The letter of the complaint was copied to Minister Shiri, the secretary for Lands, Agriculture, Water, Climate and Rural Resettlement, the principal director and legal advisor in the same ministry and the executive secretary of the Land Commission of Zimbabwe.

The company pointed out that there was real risk that the commission’s unlawful letter can mislead the Minister of Lands to make a wrong decision in giving the land to Mr Gumbo when in fact he was not the rightful owner.

“The conduct of the commission in this regard violated our Constitutional rights including our right to administrative justice, as a Zimbabwean citizen,” TBIC wrote.

The company said if it had been given the chance to be heard, it would have demonstrated that Mr Gumbo’s claims were untrue and unlawful, which TBIC had once objected previously resulting in disputes that were then mediated by the Attorney General.

The parties finally reached two settlement agreements signed before a notary public in which Mr Gumbo allegedly agreed that he would make no further claims on properties owned by TBIC with one such property being the Stuhm property.

“Our companies paid Onias Gumbo a total of US$2,6 million, as full and final settlement of all his claims on our company and its affiliate companies and as part of the above mentioned settlement agreements,” TBIC said.

The settlement payments were made to him in the form of properties transferred to him for free or at a huge discount, which TIBC agreed after Mr Gumbo also promised he would make no further claims.

“We could have also made the information of such settlement agreements and payments to Gumbo available to you to see for yourself, if your commission had given us a chance to respond to the above allegations.” The Herald