THE Ministry of Industry and International Trade has sent six trade attaches to various countries in its bid to boost the country’s dwindling foreign currency coffers.
The move comes as Zimbabwe stares at a serious foreign currency crunch caused largely by dwindling exports and a huge debt bill.
As of December 2003, total external arrears were estimated at US$2 billion, up from US$1,3 billion at the end of December 2002.
There is no foreign direct investment (FDI) and balance of payments support from international organisations.
The country’s grants are also down by 78% while the FDI has gone down by 95% from US$98 million in 2000 to US$5 million in 2003.
Zimbabwe’s diplomats are paid in United States dollars with an ambassador now receiving a cool US$15 000 monthly (about $97 million using the official rate) before various allowances are factored into his package.
Zimbabwe has 33 embassies worldwide.
Permanent secretary in the Ministry of Trade and International Development, Christian Katsande, said the ministry had posted the diplomats to Beijing (China), Geneva (Switzerland), Brussels (Belgium), Johannesburg (South Africa), Luanda (Angola) and Kinshasa (Democratic Republic of the Congo).
“We have reactivated our policy on trade and tourism promotion officers,” he said.
The ministry will soon be sending more diplomats to other regional and “strategic destinations” in what it calls “Phase II of deployment”.
The officials will be sent to Indonesia, Botswana, Brazil, India, Zambia, Malawi, Namibia and Kenya.
The move will further strain Zimbabwe’s low foreign currency coffers as diplomats are paid in US dollars.
Katsande said if the indivi-duals performed they would just-ify their appointments to the stations.
Zimbabwe has been notorious for failing to pay its foreign bills on time, sometimes leading to diplomats living from hand to mouth and some having their electricity and water supplies cut off by host countries.
The announcement was however met with mixed views by delegates attending the two-day Confederation of Zimbabwe Industries (CZI) congress in Victoria Falls last week.
Some delegates welcomed the idea, saying it would help firms struggling to market themselves receive much-needed help from trade attaches.
Others, however, said such tactics had been tried before but had yielded nothing for the country to boast about.
Alderman Tony Gara said it was extremely costly to send company officials to foreign destinations in search of business such that it was “useless” at the moment.
He asked the permanent secretary to help businesspeople interested in marketing their products abroad to be given help by the attaches.
A delegate however suggested that the trade attaches be given contracts and their performance judged quarterly.
“Some of these guys are just on holiday at the expense of the tax-payer,”
he said. “They should be given contracts and asked to perform or be fired.”