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Justice Minister: Converting Prisons Into Businesses Brainless

Deputy Justice Minister Obert Gutu has criticized a plan by his ministry to award a Chinese developer rights to buy several prison complexes in Harare and convert them into oriental shopping malls.

Gutu told VOA that Chinese business people have approached the justice ministry intending to buy Harare Remand Prison and Harare Central complex in order to set up a shopping mall and a factory to manufacture arms, in a deal said to be worth millions of dollars.

The weekly Standard newspaper broke the story quoting a prison service officer as saying they had been instructed by top authorities to relocate the remand prison to Chikurubi Maximum Prison Farm where the Chinese are expected to build a new prison within six months of signing an agreement with government to take over the targeted entities.

But Gutu believes this proposal, which has a potential of affecting 4,000 inmates, would continue to strengthen Chinese dominance in Zimbabwe.

The deputy minister said he was deliberately left out of these important decisions but intends to fight “this ridiculous proposal”.

He said the Chinese are specifically targeting Harare remand and central prisons because they are off busy roads and just outside the central business district.

Gutu said even though he is the deputy minister he is “not normally informed of important decisions particularly especially those decisions that are thought to be politically sensitive ... but I have now devised my own way of getting this kind of information.

“While I have no problems with any investor coming into Zimbabwe to invest, I would like to believe that the investment has to be on a win-win set up and it has to be sustainable both environmentally, socially and economically. I don’t think this investment would fit into this paradigm.”

He said it does not make sense for the government to dispose of that prison complex without having an alternative place to house the 4,000 inmates.