By Patrick Chitumba
Former Midlands Provincial Affairs Minister Jason Machaya and Midlands provincial planning officer, Chaisayanyerwa Chibururu who unlawfully allocated residential stands in Gokwe town, were yesterday convicted of criminal abuse of office charges.
Machaya (68) and Chibururu (50) allocated 17 799 stands to land developers, who in turn gave them 1 791 stands worth more than US$900 000, were convicted by Gwanda provincial magistrate Ms Charity Maphosa sitting at the Gweru magistrate courts.
Ms Maphosa remanded the duo in custody today for sentence.
Machaya and Chibururu who pleaded not guilty to the charges, were however, convicted due to overwhelming evidence. Their bid to be discharged at the close of the State’s case was rejected when Ms Maphosa ruled that they had a case to answer.
In aggravation, Prosecutor Mr Garudzo Ziyaduma said the two were facing a serious offence. What stands out, he said, is that there was a high degree of premeditation in the commission of the crime.
“Firstly, they decided to take land from Gokwe Town Council and called a meeting.
“It was held during abnormal hours, well after working hours. Accused (Machaya) then sent the accused (Chibururu) to come up with a layout plan which was approved by Gokwe Town Council. It was then sent to Head Office for approval to cover up for what had already happened,” he said.
Mr Ziyaduma said the accused persons also faked that there had been due diligence in the manner in which the stands were allocated to Striations World Marketing Property Developers.
Mr Ziyaduma called on the court to use as precedence the case of the former Minister of Energy and Power Development Samuel Undenge who was jailed by the High Court for forcing the Zimbabwe Power Company to enter into a private contract that prejudiced it of US$12 000.
Mr Ziyaduma said in sentencing the pair, the court should use the revised value of the stands which he said was US$389 000 which should be converted to the local currency at the going rate of about US$1 to ZW$81, a move Mr Alec Muchadehama representing both Machaya and Chibururu objected to.
He said the real value involved in the matter has bearing on the sentence hence should remain US$900 000 converted at the then rate of US$ to ZW$.
Mr Muchadehama said the new stands valuation report was extremely prejudicial to the accused persons arguing that the State should have gotten the valuation report before trial kicked off.
“The figure of US$900 000 is supposed to be ZW$900 000 because of the exchange rate putting the United State dollar at par with the local currency announced by the Government.
“We can’t have the new figure because it will be almost ZW$40 million from what the investigating officer was saying. Accused persons must benefit from the State’s omission because it is seeking to introduce new evidence at this stage,” he said.
Ms Maphosa said she is going to address the issue of evaluation report before sentence.
In mitigation, Mr Muchadehama said the former Provincial Minister spent all his life at the service of the public from being councillor of Gokwe Town Council, then Member of Parliament before being appointed
Resident Minister for the Midlands province.
“He knows no other job besides being a public officer. Now he is a very useful member of the society who is into farming and employs 35 people. There was no single stand that was allocated to him because it was not his intention to benefit himself,” said Mr Muchadehama.
He said charges are of a technical nature and don’t warrant a prison term which is a severe, adding, that it should be considered as a last resort.
Mr Muchadehama said Machaya had fallen from grace after he was dismissed from being a Resident Minister to a convict.
“There is also the issue of too much publicity involving the matter, that on itself is punishment on its own. A fine of $10 000 is appropriate considering he gained nothing,” he said.
Turning to Chibururu, Mr Muchadehama said his client was recalled to work as the provincial planning office adding that his employer was happy to reinstate him because he is honest and is experienced.
“Part of his job is to do layout plans. He could not have refused when asked by Gokwe Town Council to do so. So, he can’t be punished for producing layout plans as requested by council. A non-custodial sentence will also be appropriate,” he said.
It is the State’s case that between 2011 and 2017 Machaya used his official powers to acquire 1 000 residential stands that were available in Mapfungautsi suburb of Gokwe town.
This was a third of the 3 000 stands available.
The court heard that the area isssss under Gokwe Town Council Administration and Machaya’s conduct is alleged to have been contrary to Government policy which authorises the Local Government Ministry to acquire only 10 percent of residential stands.
It was alleged that due to Machaya’s conduct, Gokwe Town Council lost revenue in respect of 700 stands.
Machaya reportedly further imposed a land developer, Striations World Marketing Property Developers to service and sell stands without following proper tender procedures.
According to State papers, in 2013, Machaya made verbal demands to Gokwe Town Council to release 1 000 stands as opposed to written requests made by the Local Government Ministry.
Chibururu working in cahoots with Machaya drew plans before the stands were allocated to private land developers. The Chronicle