Controversies over land continue to dog Lilongwe City Council. The latest issue is an unresolved wrangle between councillors and the secretariat over re-allocation of more than 200 plots to a developer whose offer was earlier withdrawn for failure to comply with procedures.
The secretariat accuses councillors of bypassing set rules and regulations to re-allocate land to Mount Carmel Properties.
But councillors have hit back at technicians, accusing them of giving them wrong advice.
The Ministry of Local Government and Rural Development has since advised the Lilongwe City Council (LCC) to conduct an external audit investigation on the matter.
The latest development also comes barely two months after our sister paper, Weekend Nation revealed another scandal at the council where documents were falsified to illegally change a plot from commercial purpose to light industry—a matter which the Anti-Corruption Bureau is investigating.
According to correspondence Nation on Sunday has seen, in 2011 LCC allocated 20 hectares, translating to 222 plots, to Mount Carmel, owned by businessperson-cum-politician Chatinkha Chidzanja-Nkhoma, for a housing estate in Area 27 Sector 3 located at Kanengo along the Lilongwe–Salima Road.
Mount Carmel was required to pay about K70 million in development fees within two years as required by the law, a condition which the secretariat said was never met.
The then LLC chief executive officer Richard Hara wrote Chidzanja-Nkhoma, informing her of the withdrawal of the offer.
“This is to inform you that you have failed to satisfy any of the conditions of offer and as such the Lilongwe City Council has withdrawn the offer and will offer the same to another applicant on the waiting list within the next 21 days from the date of this letter,” reads the letter signed by Hara, who is now Karonga district commissioner.
In an interview this week, Hara said he left the issue at a stage where councillors had resolved to take some of the plots (67) as payment for development charges.
Hara said it was unprocedural for councillors to re-allocate land to Mount Carmel against the opinion of the technicians.
He argued that the law mandates the plot allocation committee to decide on matters of land allocation and not the committee of finance as was the case.
This is in reference to the committee then headed by deputy mayor Juliana Kaduya, that wrote a letter to Mount Carmel on behalf of the council.
The council’s decision to re-allocate the withdrawn land also disregards the expert view from the planning section which had recommended that the land should not be given back to Mount Carmel because the company lacked ‘seriousness’ after failing to pay the required charges.
A 2015 report by LCC Directorate of Planning and Development indicated
that apart from failing to comply to pay development charges, the company had failed to demonstrate capacity to construct a modern housing estate as proposed in their application.
But in separate interviews both mayor of Lilongwe City, Desmond Bikoko, and his deputy Juliana Kaduya insisted that their decision was based on the advice from the secretariat.
for LCC. It would mean we will have to compensate her for the development she had done.
“Secondly, it was also learnt that she had sold some of the plots to third parties. It may attract legal battles and it may take LCC forever to close the issue,” explained Bikoko who added that the only way out was to take part of the plots in exchange for payment.
But the mayor’s explanation on cost implication of withdrawing plots contradicts the secretariat’s report of 2015 which we have seen: “Lilongwe City Council can consider allocation of 10 plots to Mount Carmel Properties Limited. The value of the 10 plots to Mount Carmel can off-set costs related to preparation of lay-out plans, survey of plots and compensation of properties paid to local people”.
Another LLC former CEO Moza Zeleza, during whose time it is alleged the secretariat ‘wrongly’ advised the council, said the councillors deliberately ignored the technicians’ view.
He claimed that during his time Mount Carmel started dealing with the councillors directly
“If we made a wrong decision then it is their fault because we depend on their advice on decisions we make. For this one we got advice from the CEO and his team,” explained Kaduya.
In an interview with Nation on Sunday, chairperson and CEO of Mount Carmel Chatinkha Chidzanja-Nkhoma, admitted to have delayed both payment and development of the plots.
But Chidzanja-Nkhoma said she acquired the plots after following procedures.
Asked why she started selling the plots when the agreement was for her to construct a housing estate, Chidzanja-Nkhoma maintained that funds have been an issue to realise her plans.
After the re-allocation, council records indicate that Mount Carmel is required to pay almost K370 million in development charges at the current market value, an amount government is yet to receive three years after the re-allocation was done.
Officials at the council argue that non-payment of development charges within two years amount to withdrawal of land, but they are surprised that councillors do not see a problem.
But Bikoko told Nation on Sunday that the council resolved to withdraw 67 plots from a total of 222 in lieu of payment for development charges.
He said, in 2014, when councillors assumed office, the proposal was to withdraw the entire estate from the developer for lack of payment, but since councillors were new they depended on the advice of the secretariat which conducted a cost analysis leading to the decision.
“Secretariat came in and advised the council that if we were to do that it will be costly
without the involvement of the secretariat, a thing that forced him to write principal secretary for Local Government to institute an audit investigation to get to the bottom of the issue.
“They [councillors] asked the secretariat to drop the issue and that they would handle it themselves. That is not the way things are done. Technicians are the ones who are supposed to handle these issues,” said Zeleza.
Ministry of Local Government
spokesperson Muhlabase Mughogho said investigations would help resolve an issue which has the potential of straining the working relationship between the council and secretariat.
“The ministry has since advised the city to go-ahead with the said external audit investigations on the matter. The ministry is ready to provide any policy guidance on the matter where need be,” she said.
Current LCC chief executive
The same issue has been referred to the Attorney General for a legal advice,” he explained.
Makanga also questioned the council’s decision to allocate Mount Carmel such a huge land without checking the capacity of the company to undertake the proposed project (housing estate).
Asked if they were aware of these reported irregularities both Bikoko and Chidzanja-Nkhoma blamed the directorate of planning and development for having ulterior motives towards the council and the client.
But in response, the deputy director responsible for planning and development Hastings Mumba said all the secretariat is doing is following the law.
However, both Bikoko and Kaduya consider the actions from some officials in the secretariat as a fight for power.
“Now that councillors have come in some officers are not happy because they no longer do what they used to do. They think our presence disadvantages them in a way; hence, the wrong advice we got from them. But only if I knew what I know now we should have withdrawn the whole estate,” said Bikoko.