In a position paper on the budget to be unveiled by Finance minister Tendai Biti on Wednesday, the Zimbabwe National Chamber of Commerce (ZNCC) also wants the government to reduce foreign trips and use alternative methods to conduct business with international partners.
The paper titled “Voice of Business” suggested that government should cut embassy staff abroad.
“In order to fund state expenditure wholly from revenues and also balance recurrent and non-recurrent expenditure, that is, without recourse to borrowing, the government should work towards the reduction in the number of Zimbabwean embassies, consulates and missions abroad while consolidating representation in various regions,” ZNCC proposed. “The government should reduce foreign trips or use affordable air travel classes, reduce delegation size, cut embassy staff and foreign missions.”
The call by the business community to cut the number of traveling delegations comes a week after media reports that President Robert Mugabe traveled with an entourage of over 60 people for the food summit held in Rome, Italy, last week.
Zimbabwe has 38 embassies and three consulates, of which 16 are in Africa — in Angola, Botswana, the Democratic Republic of Congo, Egypt, Ethiopia, Ghana, Kenya, Libya, Malawi, Mozambique, Namibia, Nigeria, South Africa, Sudan, Tanzania, and Zambia.
Overseas, Zimbabwe is represented in Australia, Austria, Belgium, Brazil, Canada, China, Cuba, France, Germany, India, Indonesia, Iran, Italy and Japan.
The country also has diplomatic missions in Kuwait, Malaysia, Portugal, Russia, Sweden, Switzerland and the United Kingdom while in the United States it is represented at the United Nations in New York and has an embassy in Washington.
ZNCC said government should close embassies that are not in strategic locations.
They want government to come up with a policy guideline that would reduce significantly the size of public service and the armed forces.
“We recommend a significant reduction in the size of the public service and the armed forces in order to contain expenditure,” ZNCC said.
The business leaders also want Biti in the budget to give a commitment that the country would continue to use multi-currencies until 2011.
“The government should make a commitment that Zimbabwe will continue to operate a basket of multi-currencies, subject to review in the 2011 budget statement, thereby eliminating currently widespread uncertainty and insecurity within the economy,” the chamber added.
Turning to issues pertaining to tax, the business leaders called on government to consider reviewing the tax-free threshold to US$500 in the budget so as to cushion workers and stimulate local demand.
“The 2010 budget should seek to increase tax-free threshold to US$500 and the first income bracket should be taxed at 10 percent,” ZNCC said.
The tax-free threshold is currently pegged at US$150 monthly, the average salary for most civil servants.
The business leaders said there was an urgent need for government in the 2010 budget to increase civil servants’ salaries with immediate effect.
They said Biti should adopt a growth budget adding that the country should make use of cost-effective transparent systems to collect taxes as a way of cutting expenditure.