The Office of the Ombudsman is demanding a detailed report from Mangochi district commissioner (DC) on a private lakeshore land where former president Peter Mutharika built his retirement home.
Ombudsman Martha Chizuma, in a letter dated September 30 2020, demands the response within 21 days, whose deadline is October 21 2020.
This follows a complaint filed to the Office of the Ombudsman by Albert Viola, who believes that Mangochi District Council abused its office as the sale of the land to Mutharika could not have proceeded without the facilitation and enablement of the council.
The Ombudsman in an interview on Thursday confirmed she has written the DC, Raphael Pilingu to get finer details to help her office handle the matter.
“These are preliminary investigations before I decide if the complaint is something that requires the attention of my office,” Chizuma said.
According to the letter, which we have seen, the Ombudsman advises the DC that the complainant alleges that the council was aware of issues surrounding the land but went ahead to facilitate the sale.
“Moreover the complainant further alleges that in the process of the sale of the land there are some officers of the council who also benefited financially from the sale by virtue of being lands officers.
“This complaint, therefore, raises a number of acts of maladministration on the part of the council in particular, abuse of power, unfair treatment and also unfair, unreasonable and unjust discharge of functions,” Chizuma writes.
The Ombudsman says it is her intention to ensure fair determination of the matter and she could only do so upon hearing from the council’s side of the story.
“Section 124 of the Constitution gives me power to demand disclosure of any information,” she advises.
According to the Ombudsman’s letter, Viola alleges that he bought the land situated at Chisigele Village, Traditional Authority Mponda in Mangochi in the 1990s with the aim of constructing fish ponds for fish farming.
He explained, according to the Ombudsman’s letter, that he started the process of obtaining lease but the late James Makhumula, who was a Cabinet minister then, tried to take the land from him.
“The matter was eventually settled. Soon after this incident the DPP [Democratic Progressive Party] district governor Mr. Salie Mdala again led a group of villagers to grab the land from him.
“The complainant went to Mangochi Magistrate’s Court where the court ruled in his favour. He then started his project and when it started registering success in 2013, Mr. [Mdala], using his political influence mobilised the villagers again and took an injunction against him to stop the farming,” it reads.
The Ombudsman explains the developments took a big toll on his finances as he had taken loans for the project.
She says the injunction was later set aside by the courts in November 2013 and the DC then, Bester Mandere, in his letter in June 2014 informed the ones who had obtained the injunction that following its setting aside, the complainant was at liberty to use the land in question.
“Unfortunately by this time the complainant’s financial situation had worsened and there was no way of recovering,” writes Chizuma.
She says in her letter it was during this time when Mdala and the complainant’s relations led by Saulos Nkulandzalo took advantage of his situation and sold the land to Mutharika.
“The complainant alleges that when he heard that the one buying the pieces of land was the former president, he tried to reach out to him [but in vain].
“He had thought that the process would halt so that this matter should be resolved. However, the land sale process proceeded and was completed. He alleges that the land was sold as two pieces,” explains the Ombudsman.
Viola is a retiree of Maldeco Fisheries, petitioned Mutharika in October 2017 to inform him that some people sold him his land and he wanted to be compensated.
But according to Viola, the petition never got to Mutharika.
Viola, who disclosed he co-owned the land with his brother Ernest Viola, a Blantyre-based transporter, said he received K7.3 million from a broker after the land was sold to Mutharika.
He said he felt this was far too little compared to the land he valued at K36 million.
But Arthur Masamba, from former president’s office, said in an earlier interview that Mutharika bought the land through a legitimate process that involved Ministry of Lands and have documentation to prove that.
He said the issues coming up could be family matters and the former president does not know Albert Viola and has never dealt with him.
Saulos Mkuluzado, Albert Viola step brother, who brokered the deal, also explained in an earlier interview that the land belonged to Ernest Viola, but since Albert was working for Maldeco in Mangochi, his brother asked him to look after the land.
He said the land, owing to the disagreements between the Violas and as directed by the two, was registered in his name, Saulos Mkuluzado, until it was sold to Mutharika.
He said the former president is the rightful owner of the land and he duly paid for it.