HE Bulawayo City Council has rejected objections from residents over the allocation of a farming plot in Rangemore to its Mayor, Councillor Solomon Mguni noting that council had followed legal procedures.
There was a public outcry in June after the local authority offered Clr Mguni a 3,5-hectare piece of agricultural land in Lower Rangemore under a 25-year lease at $165 per month rent. According to the latest council report the local authority received 24 objections where a total of 33 different issues were noted.
Among the noted objections were low rentals, length of the lease, conflict of interest, abuse of office, poor corporate governance, residents not consulted, unreasonable terms and conditions, burden to ratepayers, potential loss of new revenue streams for benefit of city and abuse of assess to privileged information.
"The rental was archaic at the date of advertising (29 May 2020), rentals were reviewed quarterly because of inflation. The monthly rental of $165 was for the period December 2019 to February 2020. In March 2020, rentals were then reviewed to $495, in June 2020, rentals were reviewed again for similar size land to $1 485 per month. By comparison, the Ministry of Lands, Agriculture, Water and Rural Resettlement is leasing plots at rent of $5 per hectare per annum. Relating to the length of the lease, in general urban agricultural leases are of a five-year lease duration subject to review," reads the council report.
The local authority also argued that the Mayor should not be discriminated because of his position as this would be a violation of his right as an individual as long as all due processes are followed. Council further noted that the proposed lease will not be a burden to rate payers as the rentals shall be reviewed to market levels hence contribution to the fiscus.
"Council has adequate internal skills to appraise leases. The land appraisal process is not cognisant of the beneficiaries' name but rather the type, size and quality of land to be alienated. The proposed terms and conditions are applicable to similar leased agricultural land hence nothing unreasonable. The Mayor as individual also has a right to access land in terms of the Zimbabwean Constitution, Urban Councils Act and as well as the Bulawayo Urban Agriculture Policy as long as due processes are followed and the same was observed in this instance," reads the report.
The local authority further revealed that on the list of internal stakeholders, two senior officers and one policy maker were prioritised for allocation as in the previous allocation only one senior officer was allocated.
"The quota of internal stakeholders was to be balanced with the 88 plots awaiting allocation in Dunstal. The prioritised policy maker on the waiting list was the Mayor, after evaluation of his capacity to develop the plot. In that regard, he was allocated together with the other two senior employees (the city's director of financial affairs, Mr Kimpton Ndimande and the city health director, Dr Edwin Sibanda).
"The allocation process was above board as it was done according to procedure, however, there is always room to improve systems. The previous system was based on first come first served bases, the system is now reviewed to assess the capacity of the applicants on the waiting list," reads the council report.
Residents through the Bulawayo Progressive Residents Association (BPRA) had written to the local authority to object on the land offer to Clr Mguni.
In their objection, the residents noted that the mayor used his privileged access of information to make an application for the said property.
The residents claimed that this was an illegitimate deal that promotes clientelism, patronage and capture.