UNWTO assembly: Mzembi in panic mode

IT is increasingly becoming clear that by bidding for and winning the right to host the United Nations World Tourism Organisation (UNWTO) general assembly, now merely six months away, Zimbabwe has bitten of more than it can chew and the spectre of national embarrassment now looms large.

Candid Comment with Stewart Chabwinja

Equally evident is that Tourism minister Walter Mzembi, whose buoyancy at landing the right to host the global tourism showcase was encapsulated in his promise to make the 20th session of the UNWTO “a unique African event” while preparatory projects would “mark the growth of Victoria Falls as a tourism hub of Southern Africa”, is now in panic mode as time fast runs out.

The fears of a looming tourism assembly fiasco we expressed in one of our editorials last July, three months after Zimbabwe’s bid had prevailed, are fast becoming stark reality despite hollow assurances preparations were on track.

The looming fiasco betrays acute disorganisation, event mismanagement, lopsided priorities and lack of foresight. High-sounding projects upon which the Zimbabwean bid triumphed only remain on paper.

Plans to construct a convention centre in Vic Falls to seat about 4 500 people, committee rooms, a golf course, and two hotels have been shelved. So apparently have infrastructural projects that include upgrading of the airport and roads.

This is despite Mzembi presenting a ministerial statement last year informing MPs preparations for the tourism conference were at an “advanced stage” with 1 200 hectares of land earmarked for shopping malls, casinos, a tourism theme park and other projects.

Instead, Mzembi is now running from pillar to post, as it dawns on him that his plans are in total disarray.

Over the last week he met Prime Minister Morgan Tsvangirai and President Robert Mugabe seeking election date assurances and, more importantly, cash, but has only obtained more promises that “something will be happening soon in terms of funds…” This only confirms government’s lack of cohesion and planning; it wants to host the global event without the requisite logistics and finance.

Last year then Tourism permanent secretary Sylvester Maunganidze caused a stir when he revealed Zimbabwe lied to win the bid to host the assembly.

“We made our bids using electronic presentations which we manipulated because we were competing,” he confessed before parliamentary portfolio committee … “If other players don’t play ball, there will be an imaginary Victoria Falls which I have sold very well to the world, but which is not there.”

As Mzembi has his hands full courting the private sector, while chasing after a meagre US$6 million pledge from Treasury, attempts to woo foreign partners and groans under bureaucratic red tape, he would be first to agree Maunganidze could not have put it better! Deception will only get you so far.

To compound his predicament, he now urgently needs US$90 million to get preparations firmly back on track. Where the hard-pressed Treasury will source the funds from is a mystery, especially given that it needs about US$250 million for the referendum and general elections this year.

There’s no doubt the chickens are coming home to roost and at this rate some people will be left with egg on their faces.