Land board officials have been pointed out as the invisible hand behind the selling of both residential and commercial plots from Batswana to foreign nationals, The Patriot on Sunday has established.
An investigation by this publication has unearthed information which alleges that a syndicate of land board officials and some foreign nationals especially of Asian origin coerce Batswana into selling their plots in Tlokweng. Information received shows that some Land Board officials involved in the scheme identify undeveloped plots and call the owners warning that their plots will be repossessed as they have failed to develop them within the stipulated two years.
Immediately after warning the plot owners that they must develop the plots or face losing them, a potential buyer will contact the owners with an offer to buy. “In 2012 I was called to Tlokweng Land Board and told that my commercial plot will be repossessed within three months if I did not develop it though it was fenced and had standpipe,” said Thapelo Modisana in an interview.
He said he panicked and tried to look for funds to develop the plot but was surprised to be called by a well-known Gaborone businessman who owns lot of plots offering to buy his. “I turned down the offer but the following day another one called offering me P100, 000 which I also turned down since I managed to secure funds to develop the plot,” he said.
A source at Tlokweng Land Board has revealed that officers involved in the scam reap a lot of money from the foreign nationals as they normally take 20 to 30% of the transaction. “The danger with this syndicate is that it involves very powerful people who are well connected and even if one tries to report them he won’t succeed or worse still they risk being transferred to other places,” she said.
It is alleged that the syndicate also involves some land board members who are familiar with the village and know where the commercial plots are. Residential plot owners who are struggling to develop have not been spared and are said to be the soft targets as most of them are unemployed youth. “The mostly affected area is Lenganeng where there a lot of new plots and people have been forced to sell for fear of them being repossessed,” said the source.
The modus operandi of the syndicate is for land board officials to identify owners of the plots and give the contact details to the business partners who will then make offers. “Sometimes it is better to get some money rather than allow your plot to be taken away from you. I realised after I sold mine that I have been duped to give away my precious land,” said a Tlokweng youth who refused to be named for fear of victimization.
Asked how much he sold his plot, the disgruntled youth said that he was given P30, 000 to part ways with his residential plot, which his mother applied for him while still at secondary school. Most of the plots are transferred after the new buyer has built a temporary structure which will then make the transfer of the plots easier as they will be selling the property not the land as it is against the Tribal Land Act. Section 38(1) of the Tribal Land Act stipulates that the land cannot be transferred without the consent of the land boards but our source have revealed that the syndicate is always finding a way around the act as transfers are made successfully. “There are lots of land transfers that have happened in Tlokweng which were done corruptly,” said the source.
Tlokweng Land Board Principal Public Relations Officer Keothaile Tau said they are not aware and have not received any report that their staff members are involved in some dubious land dealings. “The Land Board has never received a report of a staff member conniving with anybody to sell plots. Should there be such occurrence or suspicion the public should notify the relevant authorities,” he said.
Tau added that they educate their staff on issues of corruption and sale of land and also educate the public on consequences of sale and transfer of land. He denied that any of their staff members was ever expelled or suspended on suspicion that they have been involved in some corrupt practices regarding sale of land. “Should any case arise, the right channels of discipline shall be followed,” he said.
Asked how many plots have been transferred from 2005 to date, Tau said only one plot was lawfully transferred to a foreigner through land board in the past ten years. For the past ten years Tlokweng Land Board has repossessed fifteen business plots, said the land board mouthpiece but could not state how many of them were reallocated.
Francistown is another area which officials at Self Help Housing Agency (SHAA) are alleged to be conniving with some businessmen to buy residential plots at Gerald Estates at a bargaining price. A 2013 Audit report by the Francistown City Council which the management is said to be refusing to avail to civic leaders is said to have exposed corruption by some SHAA officers at Gerald Estates. “The report has shown that some SHAA officials were involved in selling unclaimed residential plots at Gerald and were conniving with some foreigners in the deal,” said a source at FCC.
After the audit report was passed to management some officers at SHAA were transferred to other department within the council rather than facing disciplinary action, this publication has established. The Gerald Estates plots were mostly given to former squatters from Somerset West, Matjimenyenga, Kgaphamadi and Coloured locations in 2001 and some of the plot owners have since passed away before they could develop them.
Government bought Gerald Estate farm as a way of curbing land shortage in Francistown which led to some people squatting and the estate is divided into two wards, Kanana and Moselawapula. “In 2012 I went to SHAA offices in Francistown to check on the residential plot given to my mother who has since passed away, and was given two big files to check her name and could not find anything as they were not organized alphabetically,” said Chibua Dube who said the officers were not interested in helping her.
Former FCC councilor who is now Member of Parliament for Francistown West Ignatius Moswaane said he is aware of the 2013 audit report, which was never shared with councillors.“The issue of SHAA officers selling plots in Gerald Estate has always been known to management and we have tried to raise it during meetings,” he said.
Contacted, FCC Senior Public Relations Officer Joseph Wasubera said Botswana’s second city leadership is not aware of the allegations that some of their officers were involved in selling unclaimed plots and that they have not been investigated or suspended. He said that they have repossessed 55 plots in 2010 while 22 were taken in 2013 and were later reallocated as per the waiting list.
Last year during the Mogoditshane sub Land Board workshop on corruption and risk in land management, Directorate of Corruption and Economic Crime (DCEC) Director General Rose Seretse raised concern about the illicit land dealings involving syndicates which Land Board officials were part of. She revealed that DCEC has realised that there is lot of corruption involving land in Botswana and that they were investigating 10 cases of corruption in allocation of land in Mogoditshane and Mmopane involving 90 plots.