A plan to construct a magnificent hotel on a piece of land that is located within the river banks of Lunyangwa river in Mzuzu city, known as the Chinese gardens, has raised eyebrows among authorities and city residents as the place is plainly a flood hotspot.
And our investigations have established how corruption might have influenced the Ministry of Lands officials to accept change of land use application by the developer as well as the Mzuzu City Council officials to dubiously approve construction plans.
Last week flamboyant and controversial Minister of Local Government and Rural Development Kondwani Nankhumwa warned council officials to desist from corrupt tendencies saying he will not spare suspects.
“You might have heard that some council officials have been arrested and even suspended for mismanagement of resources,” the flagship Daily Times quoted him as saying.
Ironically, Nankhumwa is embroiled in a number of questionable deals ranging from alleged extortion, nepotism and corrupt activities all linked to the Malawi Communication Regulatory Authority (MACRA), the Malawi government cash cow.
At the heart of the hotel project is a worthy businessman Kenani Kasinja popularly known by his trade brand, Tahiti Networks.
The Centre for Investigative Journalism Malawi (CIJM) established that Kasinja bought the land from another business family, the Gelos, who were primarily using the land as an orchard due to its geographical nature.
But Kasinja is alleged to have decided to convert the land into a commercial property apparently with an intention to construct a hotel on the land.
In fact the developer has already constructed a brick fence around the land in readiness for the project.
We have it on authority that Kasinja maneuvered his way to obtain a change of land use approval by some ministry officials at the Lands Commissioner’s northern regional office in Mzuzu.
Efforts to contact Kasinja have been fruitless for over five weeks.
Then the developer obtained a dubious approval of his construction plan by some Mzuzu City Council officials to construct the hotel on the land.
But when city residents started making noise about the project, the developer put the project on ice while the officials then started backtracking on their earlier dubious approvals.
The procedure is that once a developer acquires land from the Ministry of Lands, the Malawi housing Cooperation or the City Council, he or she submits construction plans to the City Council who scrutinize them through the Town and Country Planning Committee that is made up of independent city residents as well as technocrats from the Lands and City Council.
Our sources within the Lands department confided in us that some officials at the regional Lands office allegedly helped Kasinja to change land use from urban agriculture to hotel construction.
But Northern Regional Commissioner for Lands Anold Thumba denied that his office processed change of ownership from the Gelo family to that of Kasinja or change land use from urban agriculture to that of commercial use.
“Who told you that he wants to construct a hotel? What I know is that Mr Kasinja did not change ownership of the land or its use. That land is meant for urban agriculture and from my knowledge he constructed the fence just to protect his plants,” Thumba said.
He maintaining that the land is still in the name of the Gelo family but he could not say what type of plants are there. CIJM saw only wild grass in the premises
Similarly, Thumba could not explain himself how he came to know that it was Kasinja who bought the land, who erected a fence as well as that his intention was to protect his plants using the fence and not that it was all an intended hotel project since he was claiming the land was still in Gelo’s name based on the documents his office have.
However, Assistant Director of Town and Country Planning and Estates Mariana Banda told us that Kasinja brought plans for the construction of a hotel at the place but were turned down by the Town and Country Planning Committee.
“What I know is that Mr Kasinja submitted his plans before the Town and Country Planning Committee but were turned down. What was approved is the fence only,” said Banda.
This was contrary to what Kathumba claimed that the land still belongs to the Gelo family according to the documents his office has.
This raises further questions as how Kasinja would bring his construction plans apparently in his name on a land that was in Gelo’s name.
Mzuzu City Mayor Councilor William Mkandawire in an interview expressed discontent and suspicion of underhand dealings with the way the issue has been handled saying he has since demanded a written formal report from the City Council Planning Department.
Sources at the Council told us Kasinja by-passed the City and Town Planning Committee by using some officials at the City Council’s Planning Department to approve the plan of fence only and then use that same plan as an approval for the whole hotel project.
The trick was intended at using some engineers at the council who have the mandate to approve some supplementary structures of the whole project like the fence singlehandedly to approve his project through backdoor.
Upon making the approval, the City official are said to have hidden the documents from the City Council for over three months so as to leave the Council with no chance to reverse the decision as procedure stipulates.
“What I heard was that the plans were approved by somebody within the Council and that was not made known to us in time with the intention for the three months of which we can reverse the decision to elapse so that we have no chance to stop that,” Mayor Mkandawire said.
Now, that the issue has become too hot to handle with many sectors becoming interested in it, the developer seems to have halted the project at the fence phase while the City Council and Lands officials are now backtracking and disowning the “approvals”.
- This story was supported by the Centre for Investigative Journalism Malawi (http://investigative-malawi.com).