ELSEWHERE in these pages today we exclusively reveal that President Robert Mugabe, who is currently in the Far East on his long annual holiday with his family, has once again showed his skewed sense of priorities by blowing more than US$36 million on foreign travel at a time the government’s coffers are severely depleted amid a deepening economic crisis.
Candid Comment,Faith Zaba
Mugabe, who is easily the most travelled head of state in the world and a strong contender to have his name immortalised in the Guinness Book of World Records for being the most prolific clocker of air miles in a year, spent most of 2016 globetrotting on private business and attending useless summits at a time the government is virtually bankrupt. Mugabe’s absentee leadership paralyses government business. And owing to his autocratic leadership style, everything literally comes to a standstill when he is away.
The 2017 budget showed that the nonagenarian leader spent US$34,4 million in the first 10 months of last year at a time the country is in the throes of a deepening economic crisis characterised by a debilitating liquidity crunch that has brought the current acute cash shortage, low capacity utilisation of below 50%, company closures and substantial job losses. It is more than the US$33 million he spent on foreign travel during the same period in 2015.
To give perspective to the amount spent by Mugabe on his trips, the US$36 million he has squandered globetrotting is more than the US$30 million allocated for the whole of this year to Parliament, which has more than 300 lawmakers.
It is also more than the money spent by key ministries up to October 31 last year. The trips outweighed expenditure during the same period by key ministries such as Macroeconomic Planning and Investment Promotion (US$4,8 million), Energy (US$920 984), Transport (US$5,7 million), Industry (US$7,4 million) and Small and Medium Enterprises (US$4,1 million, Mines (US$19,8 million and Environment, Water and Climate (US$1,6 million). The moniker “visiting president” could not be more apt for Mugabe. These shocking statistics make a mockery of Mugabe’s call for civil servants to tighten their belts citing the harsh economic climate during his Independence Day address in 2015. The millions blown by Mugabe is an insult to civil servants, the majority of whom spent the Christmas holidays penniless after government failed to pay them on time while Mugabe wined and dined in foreign lands.
It would be understandable if the nonagenarian leader, who usually goes with a large entourage of not less 100 people, brought something tangible from these trips. However, the upshot of his travels is a bunch of memoranda of understanding (MOUs) whose details are kept like a national secret with most of them having no tangible use for the country. Worse still, Mugabe has drained the fiscus on such trips to go and rail against real and imagined enemies for cheap political point scoring.
It is our hope that in 2017 Mugabe will drastically reduce his foreign trips and focus on the burgeoning crisis at home. Better still, he should dispatch his deputies, Emmerson Mnangagwa and Phelekezela Mphoko, to attend some of the meetings.