EDITORIAL COMMENT: Clamp down hard on land barons

THE “business as usual” attitude by land barons who continue to blatantly flout city by-laws and parcel out land that does not belong to them testifies to a glaring lack of commitment to end the scourge by our legislators. Thousands of ordinary Zimbabweans have lost their savings to people illegally selling off urban land.

These people openly carry out their activities with seeming connivance of Government authorities. Why do these people turn a blind eye?

Yesterday we carried a report that people are falling prey to various criminals selling off land in Nyatsime, a new settlement in Chitungwiza. The fact these people can carry out their activities right under the nose of the municipality which represents the Local Government is perplexing.

It appears to indicate that the local authorities are not empowered to do anything and can only recommend that the miscreants be arrested.

The municipal authorities have issued a public warning discouraging people from entering into transactions with the alleged land barons. But it is clear that the advice is coming too late for some people who have already paid.

With the housing backlog ballooning each day and over half a million eagerly awaiting a chance to be homeowners, the land barons are always going to have ready victims waiting to be sold dummies.

This is where our legislators need to come in. We need deterrent laws that will make illegal selling of land a serious crime with an assured jail sentence upon conviction.

Currently these people are getting away with it and are not likely to stop. In fact, more and more criminals are likely to realise that illegal selling of land is a free lunch that they can capitalise on.

Although we have had a few prosecutions and a couple of convictions, no land baron has served time behind bars for the offence. These people are allowed to pocket the proceeds of their illegal activities then walk away free after a legal slap on the wrist.

Some of them move on to new projects in other parts of the country and start the whole vicious cycle again.

While the effort to cushion the hapless victims intended by the regularisation of some of the illegally allocated properties, this practice simply whitewashes the crime of the land barons.

They should be made to hand over to the responsible authority all the proceeds they would have realised from the illegal sales.

What is urgently needed is a clear set up where the criminals will be made to restitute their victims and serve long custodial sentences.

We also need proper clearance of any individuals wanting to set themselves up as land developers. They should be able to prove that they do not have prior convictions or uncompleted projects in any part of the country.

Civil servants have been the biggest losers in these land scams with dubious organisations appearing to find it surprisingly easy to collect money through that channel.

Therefore it is clear that the operations of the Salary Service Bureau should be closely monitored and tightened.

They should only carry out salary deductions for entities cleared by their respective ministries.

With these measures, land barons may find the climate a bit too hostile for business and people can buy properties and build homes in peace.

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