THE cash-strapped government, which faces shrinking revenue inflows, blew up more than US$25 million on domestic and foreign travel in the first five months of the year, the Zimbabwe Independent has established.
Hazel Ndebele/Wongai Zhangazha
The revelations come at a time government continues to struggle to pay civil servants and failing to remit their deductions to the relevant entities, while capital and social projects are seriously underfunded.
Despite the cumulative target being set at US$5,6 million as at May for foreign travel expenses, government had spent US$22,8 million, a figure almost four times the targeted amount.
On domestic travel expenses, the cumulative target was US$1,5 million and yet US$3,1 million was spent by the end of May.
At the current rate, by the end of July, government would have spent above US$35 million on travel, an average of US$5 million a month.
Besides Mugabe’s travelling expenses, government spent US$1 billion on goods and services instead of the targeted US$975 million. Employment costs came to US$945 million against a target of US$905 million.
Official government sources told the Independent most of the money has been spent on President Robert Mugabe’s endless jaunts abroad, which have increased since he assumed the rotational chairship of Sadc and the African Union.
Since returning from Singapore and Hong Kong, where he had gone on a month-long holiday in December last year with his family, Mugabe has flown out of Zimbabwe more than 20 times.
One of his trips was to Zambia where he attended the inauguration of new Zambian President Edgar Lungu, who replaced the late Michael Sata who died last year.
Mugabe then left for Ethiopia for the AU summit, where he was elected the AU Assembly of Heads of State and Government chairperson.
After barely spending three days in Harare, Mugabe flew out again to Asia where he went to check on his wife, Grace, who was admitted at a private hospital.
Upon return from Asia he travelled to South Africa for the Sadc Troika Summit on Lesotho, in his capacity as the regional bloc’s chair and then spent a week in Japan for the United Nations World Conference on Disaster Risk Reduction.
On his return, Mugabe barely spent a day in the country before flying to Namibia to witness the inauguration of that country’s new President, Hage Geingob.
After his return from Namibia, he went on another trip to Algeria on a four-day state visit, which government officials said was meant to cement relations with the North African country.
Spending less than 48 hours in Algeria, he proceeded to Tanzania where he was invited to present a speech at a symposium in Arusha, organised by the ruling party Chama Cha Mapinduzi’s youth league and their Chinese counterparts.
After Tanzania, Mugabe went to Addis Ababa for the 18th Community for Eastern and Southern Africa (Comesa) summit where Ethiopia took over chairmanship from the Democratic Republic of Congo.
Mugabe, in his many trips outside the country, has also travelled to South Africa on a three-day state visit, the first in 21 years. He also travelled to Botswana, visiting Sadc headquarters as the chair.
He also flew to Egypt to witness the launch of the Tripartite Free Trade Area involving Africa’s three regional economic groupings.
Mugabe, accompanied by his wife, flew to New York this month to attend a United Nations conference on Ebola.
After his humiliation in Nigeria by Sahara Reporters online TV station at the inauguration of Nigerian President Muhammadu Buhari, Mugabe on his return to Zimbabwe passed through Equatorial Guinea. He also went to Sudan.
Recently Mugabe, accompanied by Grace, returned to Equatorial Guinea to attend an international conference on Africa’s fight against Ebola.
Among his trips was also one to Mozambique where he travelled to attend the country’s 40th independence celebrations, and Russia where he attended the 70th anniversary celebrations of the Soviet defeat of Nazi Germany during World War II.
Government is, among other problems, grappling with a liquidity crunch, food shortages, dire state of the health sector, unemployment rate of over 85% and an unsustainably huge wage bill which gobbles more than 80% of revenue.
A government insider said: “The money spent on these regional and international travels by Mugabe could have been used to cover debts that the country owes to the International Monetary Fund (IMF), World Bank and Africa Development Bank, among many others.”
Zimbabwe is in arrears in excess of US$124 million to the IMF. The country also owes around US$528 million in arrears to the African Development Bank while the World Bank is owed US$926 million.
In May the World Bank urged government to clear its debt to access more lines of credit necessary to fund critical economic programmes.
The country’s external and internal debt overhang of about US$10 billion remains a deterrent to fresh funding.