PRESIDENT Robert Mugabe’s globetrotting has seen him splurge US$36 million on foreign and domestic travel in the first 10 months of 2016, piling pressure on a cash-strapped government that is failing to buy painkillers for public hospitals, the Zimbabwe Independent can reveal.
By Taurai Mangudhla
While recurrent expenditure, mostly civil service wages, gobbled 97% of the US$4 billion 2016 National Budget as of September, the Office of the President and Cabinet (OPC) spent US$34,4 million on foreign trips that have yielded no tangible results for Zimbabweans. OPC spent US$1,2 million on domestic travel, according to figures obtained from the 2017 National Budget.
Mugabe’s trips outweighed expenditure by ministries such as Macro-economic Planning and Investment Promotion, Energy and Power Development, Transport and Infrastructure Development and Industry and Commerce as well as the Parliament of Zimbabwe.
The expenditure came at a time Zimbabwe failed to honour the Abuja Declaration, which states that governments should allocate 15% of the budget to health. Instead, only 9,7% (US$330 million) of the 2016 National Budget was reserved for the sector.
A huge infrastructure gap estimated at US$20 billion has also resulted in poor service delivery.
Former finance minister Tendai Biti criticised Mugabe for piling pressure on Treasury at a time the economy is floundering.
“What kind of a President spends two months outside the country on a holiday when his economy is in a fragile fiscal position?” Biti asked, adding “it’s an indication he is not fit to govern.”
Biti said Mugabe, who now prioritises his trips, was always kept in check by the opposition during the Government of National Unity (GNU) era.
“Post the GNU it is like a dog has been released from a leash,” Biti said.
The OPC’s total expenditure for the first 10 months of 2016 stood at US$178,9 million against an appropriation of US$165,9 million.
Current transfers — comprising entities like the District Development Fund, Presidential Scholarships, Research Council and the State Procurement Board — accounted for the majority of the OPC expenses at US$124,3 million, followed by goods and services.
Goods and services amounting to US$47,6 million comprised travel, medical supplies and services, rental and hire expenses, hospitality and information communication supplies.
Rental and hire expenses amounted to US$14 million. The OPC also spent US$1,9 million on maintenance, US$1,4 million of which was under fuel, oils and lubricants while the other US$400 000 was on vehicles and mobile equipment.
Employment costs — that include US$2,8 million in basic salaries, US$1,6 million in other allowances, US$630 175 funeral expenses, US$585 000 in housing allowances, US$216 000 transport allowances — amounted to US$5,3 million in the period under review.
The OPC’s expenditure far outweighed that of the Macroeconomic Planning and Investment Promotion ministry which spent only US$5,9 million mostly on current transfers, the bulk of which (US$3,5 million) went to the national statistics agency Zimstat. This comes at a time Zimbabwe is in desperate need of re-engagement with multilateral creditors and foreign investors, who have become wary of the country’s policy regime that is characterised by inconsistencies.
The ministry of Energy and Power Development spent US$920 000 of which US$840 000 was on employment. The Energy ministry spent a paltry US$16 000 on programmes of biogas technology, energy conservation, and small hydropower development. This is despite the country’s huge power deficit that has seen blackouts and heavy load shedding.
Despite the huge infrastructure gap and continued deindustrialisation as shown by the collapse of thousands of companies, the ministry of Transport and Infrastructure Development spent only US$10,6 million, consisting US$7,4 million in salaries while the Industry and Commerce ministry spent only US$7,4 million.
Mugabe’s travels alone gobbled up way more than the US$17,1 million spent by the Parliament of Zimbabwe in the period under review.
The Defence vote was also huge at US$393,5 million, which is way more than other key ministries responsible for social service delivery.
Mugabe’s regime has been accused of using the uniformed forces and the intelligence service to stay in power.
Amplifying the government’s misguided priorities, the Welfare Services for War Veterans spent US$18,4 million while the Zimbabwe Human Rights Commission used only US$1,5 million while the Zimbabwe Anti-Corruption Commission spent only US$1,4 million.
This comes as Zimbabwe ranks among the worst countries in terms of respecting human rights and fighting corruption.