POLITICAL and economic analysts have described as a waste of scarce foreign currency the retreat the government has arranged for cabinet ministers, their deputies, and permanent secretaries in the resort town of Victoria Falls starting fFriday.
President Robert Mugabe and Prime Minister Morgan Tsvangirai were Thursday night expected in Victoria Falls to join the retreat, which the 85-year-old leader will open.
The retreat comes against a backdrop of the formation of the inclusive government whose mandate is to get Zimbabwe back on its feet after a decade of political and economic turmoil partly induced by a chaotic land reform programme since 2000.
The retreat, according to Tsvangiraiâ€™s spokesperson James Maridadi, is being held to brainstorm on the recently-launched Short Term Emergency Recovery Programme (Sterp) so as to dovetail it with existing economic policies.
Also lined up for discussion will be a policy framework that enables the government to deliver on its expectations within 100 days.
Analysts interviewed by the Zimbabwe Independent criticised the retreat saying the situation in the country could not sustain a fete of such a magnitude.
Eric Bloch, a Bulawayo-based economist, said the retreat was necessary but it would add a strain to the countryâ€™s â€œempty treasuryâ€.
â€œI understand the need for the retreat but it is an added strain to the countryâ€™s treasury. There is no need to over-emphasise on the need to cut state expenditure as we are not yet prepared to fund such a meeting,â€ Bloch said.
â€œThe funds could have come from a donor but government should prioritise its expenditure. The bill to entertain the bloated cabinet will run into tens of thousands of US dollars which the country is not prepared to lose at the moment. Accommodation for the ministers alone will cost more than US$20 000 daily; what about food, hiring conference facilities, daily allowances, stationery and other incidentals?â€
Enquiries by the Independent revealed that the Elephant Hills Hotel, a luxury hotel in the resort town, is charging an average of US$120 a night for accommodation while breakfast and lunch cost US$15 and US$12 respectively.
An accommodation bill for about 150 officials expected to attend the meeting is estimated at US$18 000 a night, while food will cost around US$4 500 a day.
Another economist John Robertson said it was worrying why a government would embark on such a spending spree when the nation is in dire need of funds for recovery purposes.
â€œI cannot imagine where the government got the money from, but what I can assure you is that the countryâ€™s coffers have no money at the moment,â€ he said.
â€œThe meeting could have been done at a much cheaper venue with the same result. But the trip is nothing if compared to the money they used to buy top of the range Mercedes Benz for the cabinet ministers and one wonders where the money is coming from,â€ said Robertson.
The government recently bought top of the range S-Class Mercedes Benz for the bloated cabinet which analysts condemned saying they should have settled for more modest cars.
National Constitutional Assembly chairperson Lovemore Madhuku said the government should disclose the source of the funds because the country is not prepared for extravagant expenses at the moment.
â€œThe government should come into the open and tell us where they got the money from. If the funds were sponsored, fair and fine, but if it is coming from the countryâ€™s coffers, then we have a very big problem here. But even if the funds were donated, they should have weighed priorities,â€ Madhuku said.
He added that it was â€œdisturbingâ€ that the cabinet had not come up with a concrete formula to govern the country by now.
â€œThose people (ministers) hold meetings every Tuesday and we then wonder what the purpose of those weekly meetings is. They should have a plan to govern the country by now; we are talking of more than 60 days these people have been in office doing nothing. Itâ€™s disturbing,â€ said Madhuku.
BY HENRY MHARAÂ