By Blessings Chidakwa
Former Minister of Labour and Social Welfare Petronella Kagonye was arrested yesterday on fraud allegations relating to the illegal parcelling out of State land in Harare and Mashonaland East Province.
She is the third former minister to be arrested over suspected corruption in land allocations, and the eleventh on corruption-related charges, although four have fled the country, as President Mnangagwa steps up the battle against abuse of office and has declared zero tolerance to corruption.
Both the “big and small fish” face investigation and arrest, with those on remand now including, besides ex-ministers, a bunch of ex-mayors, a large group of suspended councillors and a group of local government top officials.
The need to restore order and ensure proper planning and development in urban areas was a key element in what the President highlighted after officially returning to work last week.
The Government is taking drastic measures to redress the illegal construction of houses on wetlands, on land set aside for social amenities such as schools, and on unplanned suburbs, a problem in most urban areas.
He said the Government would offer alternative spaces for desperate home-seekers who have been given a raw deal by urban councils and land barons, sometimes the same people and often working together.
Special Anti-Corruption Unit (SACU) head Mr Tabani Mpofu confirmed Kagonye’s arrest.
“Yes, she has been arrested on alleged land scams, but police will avail more details,” he said.
On Saturday, Mr Mpofu said February will be a “bloody month of war” in the courts for suspected land barons.
National police spokesperson Assistant Commissioner Paul Nyathi said Kagonye’s arrest was coordinated by the Police Anti-Corruption Unit and SACU.
“Kagonye was arrested on fraud allegations related to illegal land sales in and around Harare and Mashonaland East provinces,” he said.
Sometime in 2015, Kagonye — through her company Glorious Properties — was sucked into Goromonzi South land disputes where she was accused of swindling cooperatives, among them Shingiriro Housing Cooperative.
Apart from land deals, Kagonye may also face allegations of diverting at least US$400 000 from the National Social Security Authority (NSSA) during her tenure as minister.
Land barons have been causing chaos mostly in urban areas, illegally parcelling out residential stands on unsuitable land, including wetlands and land reserved for social amenities including schools.
Besides that, even when land is suitable for building, the barons have been selling it before the required basic development of roads, sewers and water mains have been put in place.
Private developers usually add in the cost of power connection as well.
It is these services that convert free State land to a building stand that has value. Selling the undeveloped land means the sale price is pure profit.
Besides the severe health risks of plots without sewer connections and running water, using unsuitable land
imposes even more drastic problems. Without sewers and running water it is easy to have raw sewage flooding make-shift wells, for example.
A place in question is in Budiriro 5B extension where 43 households were affected by flooding following the recent heavy rains. President Mnangagwa stepped up the efforts last week to identify the scale of the problems, fix them, bring those responsible to account, and make them compensate those they cheated. The President has now put in place a task force under Vice President Constantino Chiwenga to coordinate and drive the efforts.
Other top officials arrested with cases before the courts include former Health and Child Care Minister Obadiah Moyo, ex-Home Affairs Minister Ignatius Chombo and former Mines and Mining Development Minister Walter Chidhakwa. Former Midlands Provincial Governor Mr Jason Machaya was convicted for abusing and selling State land and although he is serving a custodial sentence, he still has more cases that are pending before the courts.
Mr Douglas Tapfuma, the former director of State Residences, was similarly convicted of corruption offences related to the purchase and import of State vehicles. He is presently serving a prison term.
The process of extraditing fugitive former Cabinet Ministers Jonathan Moyo, Saviour Kasukuwere, Walter Mzembi and Godfrey Gandawa is underway.
Former Energy Minister Samuel Undenge is also behind bars on corruption charges. The Herald