Saturday, January 22, 2022

Francistown land corruption saga deepens

The ongoing investigations into corrupt land deals in Francistown have taken a turn for the worst. This follows last year‘s preliminary investigations, in which the Directorate of Intelligence Services (DIS) and the Directorate on Corruption and Economic Crime (DCEC) landed in Francistown to probe allegations of improper land deals after it emerged that government officials were conniving with political leaders and leading businessmen to fleece government of its land, in the end garnering millions of pula for themselves.

At the time, the DIS and the DCEC froze millions of pula that were suspected to be proceeds from under the table land dealings. The land that was subject to investigation was also confiscated by the investigating authorities. Leading Francistown business men, civic and community leaders, together with high flying politicians were summoned for interrogation. Their land dealings were probed, and allegations are flying thick and fast that a number of them were found to be knee deep in the muck of the corruption land scam.

The Minister of Lands and Housing, Nonofho Molefhi, at the time confirmed the investigations. Information reaching The Sunday Standard indicates that a number of government officials, including a senior female government official, were at the time detained for about a week as investigations continued. The senior female government official was then transferred outside the city. The Sunday Standard can reveal that she has now returned to her position in the lands department in Francistown.

Around two weeks ago, it emerged that 6 government officials have been interdicted after investigations implicated them in improper land dealings, and there are indications that the number of suspects will rise as investigations continue. Among those interdicted is a legal advisor at the Department of Lands. The 6 are named in 40 incriminating dockets, which the DCEC has reportedly passed to the Directorate of Public Prosecution (DPP). The suspects are alleged to have received bribes to unlawfully allocate plots.

The said female legal advisor was reportedly the king-pin in the corrupt land deals. In an intrinsic and complicated land scam, the land grabbers would repossess undeveloped plots from unsuspecting citizens and then sell them to willing buyers. Instead of handing back the repossessed land to government, or allocating it to other deserving citizens, the corrupt officers are said to have allocated the land to their friends and family members and then sold it to desperate land seekers at a steep price that could range from anywhere between P100 000 and P600 000.

“There are indications that the legal advisor and her team used family members, friends and even their maids to register the plots. They would then identify willing buyers, act as agents in the sale of the land and reward those whose names were used with a little percentage of the proceeds, keeping the bulk for themselves,” said a government officer who is close to the land grab investigations.

It has also emerged that a number of plots have been targeted for investigation in Francistown. While some of the plot owners bought the land without suspicion, reports indicate that government remains steadfast that she will not compromise, but will rather repossess the land without any consideration of their investments in the plots.

“Some of the plot owners were summoned by security personnel and told that their plots will be repossessed because they were corruptly obtained. They were told that their investments into the plots are not any business of government as they were not supposed to be allocated the plots in the first place,” said the source. In that regard some of the land owners are threatening legal action against government.

Late last year, minister Molefhi announced that he had engaged the DCEC and DIS to investigate land corruption throughout the country.

DCEC Public Relations Officer, Lentswe Motshoganetsi, on Friday said that he could not divulge any information as investigations are ongoing. He, however, revealed that he is due to get an update tomorrow (Monday).

The 2009 DCEC statistics recently revealed that the Ministry of Lands and Housing has the third highest number of corruption reports.

Government is looking into screening land board officials before appointment.


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