Land remains one area that Malawians know has been heavily abused, characterised by ownership wrangles, not to mention corruption, fueled by politicians, especially those holding public office, over the last decade.
Malawi News has since established that the Human Rights Defenders Coalition (HRDC) has written the Anti- Corruption Bureau (ACB) to probe former ruling Democratic Progressive Party (DPP) officials for alleged abuse of office, especially in the acquisition of land by some politically connected individuals.
In a letter that we have seen, dated 5 August 2020 addressed to ACB Director Reyneck Matemba, signed by HRDC Chairperson Gift Trapence, the coalition says it has names of businesspersons and politicians that benefitted from the suspicious politically connected land deals.
The letter to the ACB alleges that businesspersons who are Malawians of Asian origin, Mustag Chothia, Sulema Ismael Karim and Zahid Sattar of Pioneer Property, were suspiciously allocated land near Kamuzu Central Hospital Roundabout, as well as in Area 3 and 15 in Lilongwe.
HRDC also questions the manner in which former Minister of Lands, Symon Vuwa Kaunda, granted Charles Mchacha, who is former Deputy Minister of Transport, Plot Number LW 1366 at Limbe West (Kanjedza Forest) in Blantyre, leasehold for a 1.171 hectare of public land without following procedures as the Department of Forestry had not declared intention to sell the land.
The human rights entity is asking ACB to investigate a housing estate belonging to Malawi Housing Corporation (MHC) in Area 3, near Lilongwe Golf Club, which is believed to have been transferred to Chothia and Karim, who are also suspected to have been dubiously allocated land opposite Lilongwe Labour Offices in the capital city without following proper procedures.
In the letter, HRDC further alleges that they have information that Kaunda personally signed an offer letter on behalf of the Regional Commissioner of Lands.
The grouping claims the letter, Reference Number SR/ BT/19/94, purportedly from the Regional Commissioner of Lands, was signed by the former minister.
But when contacted, Kaunda said some of the land in question was sold long before he became minister.
According to Kaunda, the plot which was sold to Mchacha had an approval from the Office of the President and Cabinet (OPC).
“Mchacha got the land before I was appointed minister,” Kaunda said.
The former minister claimed that some of the names that have been mentioned in HRDC’s letter (the likes of Chothia) are among people that police had arrested last year and that the matter is in police hands.
“Most of what HRDC are claiming is the land syndicate my office busted; the businessmen namely Mustaq Chothia and Suleman Ismael Karim, were producing fake documents, they have sold plenty of Land in Lilongwe including the one at KCH and others. The matter was reported to Malawi Police and ACB already,” he said.
According to Kaunda, the said businessmen were under ‘heavy protection’ and were ‘untouchables’ during the time he was in office.
According to Kaunda, Chothia was granted bail by police the same day he was arrested, before adding that he does not know how far the case has gone.
There was no immediate comment from Chothia and Karim, while Mchacha’s phone was out of reach.
HRDC Chairperson Gift Trapence confirmed to have authored the letter, saying it is part of their whistleblowing initiatives aimed at curbing corruption in the country.
The letter also alleges that HRDC has information of underhanded dealings by some Ministry of Lands officials bordering on awarding of land without following proper procedures.
Meanwhile, HRDC is calling for an urgent land audit.
Among others, HRDC wants ACB to probe how land was allocated to Zahid Sattar of Pioneer Properties and how the following pieces of land were sold:
Part of Maula Prison land in Area 6, Bwemba hatchery in Lilongwe, Department of Veterinary land in Mpemba, Ministry of Agriculture’s land along Chileka Road, part of Mpemba Staff Development Institute in Blantyre and Choma hatchery in Mzuzu.
HRDC has since appealed to ACB to commence the investigations as soon as possible and that the Bureau should update Malawians once the investigations have started.
“HRDC would like ACB to scrutinise all these land transactions and see if proper procedures were followed, including their developments,” reads part of the letter.
Matemba has since acknowledged receipt of the letter but could not say much about the allegations raised.
The controversy surrounding public land came in the limelight when it was discovered that most prime land was sold to Malawians of Asian origin and in some cases, to Malawians affiliated to the former ruling Democratic Progressive Party.
Centre for Social Accountability and Transparency Executive Director Willy Kambwandira said it is regrettable that the issue of land acquisition turned ugly and government property was not spared.
“The revelations expose that petty corruption had not spared any government agency in the past six years. There was literally no transparency in allocation of public land. Access to land appeared to be a privilege for few individuals, particularly rich businesspersons and politically connected ones. We agree with those calling for an urgent all-inclusive land audit,” Kambwandira said.
He also observed that too often, legal requirements on acquisition of public land are deliberately breached and that proper processes and procedures are either by-passed or simply ignored where large tracts of public land are shared among few greedy individuals.
Last year, Malawi News reported how government-owned land was being sold in the country. The investigations further exposed that most of the prime land was sold between 2015 and 2018.