In the midst of a service delivery crisis, residents in Marondera woke up to witness an influx of the much-hyped luxurious Toyota Hilux 5GD6 vehicles across this small farming town, about 75km east of Harare.
The news spread across the town like a veld fire that council management had acquired the fuel-guzzling machines through a barter deal and trade arrangement with a local company.
The move angered ratepayers, who all along have been anticipating that council would channel resources towards the upgrading of the water and sewer reticulation system, among other outstanding service delivery issues.
The Municipality of Marondera surrendered a 150 hectare piece of land to a local company, Mega Market, in exchange for service delivery machinery and vehicles despite having a waiting list of more than 15 000 home seekers.
Residents accused council management and councillors of not being transparent about the whole deal with reports that the resolution was passed after some individuals ‘had their hands greased’.
Adding salt to injury, council is yet to receive all the equipment from Mega Market despite the deal stating that all the equipment was to be available within a year.
Marondera Residents Open Forum director Tapiwa Chengeta said the land deal was not the best option at all.
“Firstly the barter trade system is an old method of transacting. It was used when there were no modern transactions, especially with no circulating currency,” Chengeta said.
“Secondly, Marondera has a ready market for land buyers.
“With the waiting list standing at 18 000 it means 18 000 buyers ready to buy land.
“It was easy to sell the land and buy whatever was needed.”
If council was to sell 150ha of land at an average of US$10 per square metre, the local authority could have bagged an average of US$15 million.
Residents, however, said after the ‘bad deal’ council is yet to receive all the equipment.
“Be that as it is already water under the bridge, there is need for a serious follow up on the outstanding equipment,” Chengeta said.
“As residents we are becoming very worried when the council continues to shift goal posts especially on outstanding equipment.
“Our hope is that the new council will follow up and update us as a matter of urgency.
“Otherwise Marondera belongs to residents and we can take up that issue ourselves and get to the bottom of it.”
The land was part of the Hunyani Timberlands estate measuring up to 1 600ha.
Following the deal, the then Ward 11 councillor, Sizemark Vilela, said ceding the land was the only option to secure the much needed equipment.
“We had no money to purchase them (equipment), but we had land at Hunyani Timberlands,” said Vilela, adding that all was done above board with the Local Government ministry endorsing it.
“We agreed to sell almost 150ha that we had as a council.
“We did not want to sell land for money because we knew the financial challenges at council, hence the idea of exchanging land with equipment.”
The Hunyani Timberlands land had always been targeted by residents for residential purposes following a 2015 Elmswood land scandal that saw homeseekers losing money to council for stands that were never delivered.
Marondera Urban Business Association (MUBA) vice chairperson, Carlos Pindire said the delay in the completion of the deal raises eyebrows.
“If you see a deal involving a public entity or organisation taking two to three years without being completed, this raises questions, or this exposes the goodness of the leaders,” Pindire said.
“We had councillors who were sitting in during this period, some voted back, but they think people do not know what happened.
“It is up to them to be honest again and represent the residents in good faith.
“We did not receive all the equipment, some of the management personnel, who received the luxurious cars have since left council and took the vehicles along with them, this means the deal benefitted one individual at the expense of the masses.”
The outstanding equipment includes a dozer, tippers, a skip truck, a honey sucker, a UD truck, an ambulance, a vibratory roller and skip bins.
According to council, the acquisition of the said land by Mega Market took place under the condition that the company would use the land for the construction of a new commercial node, which would accommodate a long-distance terminus, a spacious modern people market, hotel and conferencing facilities, medium and high-density residential stands (including 40% of high and low-cost flats), gated communities, cluster housing, a specialised hospital, university and polytechnic, private and public schools, heavy and light industries.
Council spokesperson Kudakwashe Tapfumanei confirmed that the council was yet to receive all the promised equipment.
“I can confirm that council entered into a land-for-operating equipment arrangement with Mega Market,” Tapfumanei said.
“The agreement terms were that Mega Market would deliver 40% of the equipment within eight weeks from the day of signing the agreement, and then the rest of the equipment would be supplied within 12 months from the day of the layout plan approval.
“In return, council would hand over 150ha in exchange for operating equipment and some utility vehicles.
“Forty per cent of the initial equipment was delivered, including, but not limited to a grader, tipper, refuse truck, ambulance, UD truck and some utility vehicles.”
Tapfumaneyi said the delays were a result of ‘involvement of outside agencies’.
“However, there were some delays in the approval of layout plans as the processes involved other outside agencies and this took about a year to be concluded,” he said.
“This caused delays in the delivery of the second lot of equipment. Following the layout plan approval council received three tractors, motorbikes and fuel pumps and these were sourced locally.
“To date, 50% of the required equipment has been received.
“The bulk of the last lot of the outstanding equipment is being sourced outside the country and we expect delivery on, or before 30 December 2023.”
Council defended the deal saying the acquisition of the machinery was expected to make an impact on service delivery such as the servicing of stands, road rehabilitation, provision of emergency services, refuse collection, water reticulation and other areas of service delivery.
The Marondera business community, however, said the deal was not a priority, and that there was lack of transparency and accountability in the whole process.
“The issue of land availability in this town is a problem, we have businesspeople who are using rented premises because of scarcity of stands,” said Marondera Urban Business Forum chairperson Emmanuel Danha.
“So, we are a bit perturbed and alarmed by what is transpiring at council wherever and whenever land is available to the community.
“It is not transparent, nobody seems accountable.
“We have no idea when the council last developed or serviced its own land before dishing it out to the locals on a first come first serve basis.
“We just hear that there is vast land given to a developer in exchange for vehicles and machinery,” said Marondera Urban Business Forum chairperson, Emmanuel Danha.
Today, residents of Marondera are battling with massive water shortages and a poor water and sewer reticulation system.
Council has been blaming the ever growing population in the town which does not correspond with both the aging water and sewer reticulation system that was installed in the 70s by the whites. Standard