Show Real Leadership not Wasteful Retreats

WHAT is the cost of the coalition government’s retreat or even treat that starts today and runs for the entire weekend in Victoria Falls and who is footing the bill?

This question has become both urgent and important against the background of growing public interest in a number of high profile and high budget so-called summits that some government ministers have been hosting under murky circumstances at five star hotels across the country.

Over the last month there have been well-funded and highly publicised summits on water, women and youth, tourism along with ministerial dinners in such sectors as science and technology among others.

The cost and source of the funding for these summits and dinners are raising eyebrows not least because the 50-day old government itself says it is broke.  

How is a financially bankrupt government that is unable to adequately and fairly remunerate its civil service be as self-indulgent as to splash scarce foreign currency on itself at an expensive tourist resort such as Victoria Falls with reckless abandon?

There is something rather sinister afoot here.  To be sure, the funding of the Victoria Falls cabinet retreat this weekend has not come from or through Treasury and the same is true of the various summits and dinners that some ministers have hosted in the name of the coalition government in recent weeks.  

Apparently, the funding is coming from some donors who preach transparency and accountability during the day and practice the opposite at night. 

These donors that have decided to sidestep, marginalise and undermine government structures in favour of creating parallel processes, are working through some well known individuals, Jill Day and Eddie Cross, who have been active in coordinating the summits and ministerial dinners that have been hosted in the name of the government without involving it.  

While not much is known about Jill Day’s politics outside her public relations credentials, the whole world knows that Eddie Cross is responsible for policy coordination in the MDC T, which is a leading partner in the coalition government. 

Therefore, there are at least two people — Cross and Day — who definitely have first hand information about the cost of the Victoria Falls retreat and the ministerial dinners and summits and their source of funding.

A discussion document prepared in October 2008 by the so-called “like-minded donors” in Zimbabwe, soon after the signing of the Inter-party Political Agreement on September 15, 2008, provides vital indications not only about who is funding the costly summits, dinners and retreats and why they are funding them in the name of the coalition government. 

According to the highly opinionated 21 page document, the like-minded donors agreed to do three things in Zimbabwe:

 

lIncrease dialogue with key actors in the country (through such strategies as sectoral summits, ministerial dinners and cabinet retreats);
l Undertake needs-assessments and identify joint donor initiatives and;
l Develop and design various political phases that Zimbabwe should go through after the formation of the coalition as conditions for donor re-engagement with the country.

The summits, ministerial dinners and this weekend’s retreat in Victoria Falls are apparently the first major task of the above three-pronged approach to Zimbabwe by the like-minded donors. 

This approach is designed to foster and increase their dialogue with key actors in the hope of laying the ground for their agenda, whatever it is.

One interesting disclosure in the October strategy document of the like-minded donors is the claim that they discussed the dialogue strategy with Prime Minister Morgan Tsvangirai after which they approached the World Bank Multi Donor Trust Fund (MDTF). 

It would seem from the document that the funding of the summits, ministerial dinners and Victoria Falls retreat is coming from the like-minded donors through MDTF which is working with non state actors outside the Treasury.

The fact that these like-minded donors want to foster dialogue with key actors in Zimbabwe is not by itself a bad thing. 

Indeed, the coalition government has indicated that it is ready to engage the international community, including the like-minded donors to chart a new relationship based on mutual respect beginning with the lifting of the illegal economic sanctions that have caused untold suffering among ordinary people throughout the country. 

This was the same message that came from this week’s Sadc summit in Swaziland which among other things resolved to give Zimbabwe economic, moral, political and diplomatic support.

What is wrong and objectionable about the approach of the like-minded donors is that it is not transparent and is done in a manner that can only succeed in weakening government structures under the weight of parallel initiatives. 

Whatever the like-minded donors think they are doing, it is not an example of good governance.

While this is bad but expected, what is worse and unexpected is that there are some ministers and officials in the coalition government, many of them new or young and perhaps naive, who are either willingly or ignorantly being lured by the elusive smell of the green bucks of the like-minded donors to undermine their own precarious government that needs help from all its members if it is to survive. 

Nothing could be worse than such treachery: in simple parlance it is called selling out.

Putting aside these donor bred issues that threaten Zimbabwe’s stability, it is shameful and a demonstration of poor leadership at the helm of the executive that the whole cabinet has been made to congregate in Victoria Falls without any good cause. 

That they will indulge in wasteful spending is a given but what are they going to be talking about? Is this an opportunity for the like-minded donors to pry into the mind and secrets of the cabinet?

The claim that cabinet will use the Victoria Falls retreat to strategise on the recently launched Short Term Emergency Recovering Plan (Sterp) is as unconvincing as the suggestion that the retreat will be used to come up with a roadmap for the coalition government’s 100 days action plan.

Unless cabinet believes in putting the horse before the cart, it does not make sense to strategise about a plan that has already been launched.  

By the same token, the notion that the cabinet will use the Victoria Falls retreat to draw up a roadmap for its first 100 days in office when it is already half-way through its journey is delinquent. 

Those behind this delinquency must understand that the public can see through their charade.

The clock is ticking and doing so pretty fast.  So far, and this is some 50 days since its formation, the coalition government has very little to show for its existence beyond the hosting of expensive summits, ministerial dinners and a high profile cabinet retreat in Victoria Falls.  

On the ground ordinary people continue to be dogged by livelihood questions.  Factories remain closed with no sign of when or how they will reopen.

There are no visible or concrete plans for winter cropping and yet the season has started.  Civil servants continue to receive a socialist allowance in which everyone gets US$100 with no indication as to when the coalition government will start paying salaries to its battered workers.

There’s new mischief on the farms with the like-minded donors and their supporters defining the rule of law to mean no legal enforcement of offer letters.

Incidents of political violence have been on rise and yet they are going unreported because the victims now are Zanu PF supporters.  The illegal economic sanctions remain.

These and related issues need real leadership and not wasteful retreats at exotic resorts meant for tourists and not policymakers. 

There is still a lot of goodwill out there for the coalition government but it is not permanent or limitless and time is running out.  

lMoyo is an independent MP for Tsholotsho North.

BY JONATHAN MOYO

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