According to government sources, Prime Minister Morgan Tsvangirai and his deputy Arthur Mutambara’s push to cut back on diplomatic missions, which they say are contributing to the national debt, has met stiff opposition from Mugabe, whose associates occupy most of the foreign mission jobs.
Sources said cabinet ministers from the two MDC factions have repeatedly expressed concern over the bloated staff at the embassies and the many diplomatic missions abroad. Mugabe and Zanu PF ministers had constantly stifled debate on the issue, sources said.
Deputy Minister of Foreign Affairs, Moses Mzila Ndlovu, said this week that the issue was a “big problem” for the coalition government and confirmed that lack of consensus on how to deal with the diplomatic missions meant the status quo would remain.
“There have been a lot of proposals put forward on how to deal with the diplomatic missions and they range from scaling down the size of diplomatic staff at the missions to even closing diplomatic missions. But there have been no consensus on that,” Mzila Ndlovu said.
“Consensus would have enabled the issue to be debated by cabinet.”
He said the Ministry of Foreign Affairs owed US$19 million in unpaid rents and arrears in salaries to staff alone.
Mzila said the diplomatic missions were compounding Zimbabwe’s debt problems, adding that diplomats were living in humiliating conditions.
“The conditions the diplomats are exposed to are not good and we have to find a solution which is readily available and this simply involves cutting the diplomatic missions,” Mzila Ndlovu said.
He said the issue of downsizing embassies had been discussed by key staff of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs but Mugabe had the final say on the matter.
Diplomats are said to be pocketing salaries of between US$10 000 and US$12 000 depending on where they are posted.
The rift over the size and number of diplomatic missions abroad provides yet another example of how the coalition government partners are failing to work as a cohesive unit, having failed to agree on several power-sharing agreement issues.