When Councillor Robert Maidei* was elected into local government in Zimbabwe he was shocked by what he saw as institutionalised corruption. According to Maidei, his fellow councillors were working with housing officials to buy up property and sell it on at exorbitant prices – sometimes at up to 10 times its market value – to families desperate for a home. And with nearly 10,000 people on the city’s housing waiting list, demand was high.
Maidei brought his concerns about corruption in the housing market to us and we helped him draft a letter to the city’s governor. In response, the governor opened an investigation into the allegations and called for an urgent meeting with the councillors.
The city’s residents have rallied behind the governor’s initiative. More and more people are taking part in council meetings, budget consultations and residents’ associations. To channel this energy we have organised public hearings where hundreds of citizens have come forward to raise their complaints and concerns directly with the councillors.
While it is too early to see a direct impact on the housing market, Councillor Maidei’s action has paved the way for greater openness. “I had given up hope of ever being a house-owner because I cannot afford the informal rates being charged”, said one resident who had been on the housing waiting list for 30 years. “The inclusion of residents in allocation decisions has brightened up my accommodation prospects.”
* Names have been changed.