PRESIDENT Robert Mugabe is taking a bloated entourage of more than 70 people, including his family, to the United Nations summit scheduled for September 19 to 23, which has raised the eyebrows of the United States embassy in Harare, the Zimbabwe Independent has learnt.
By Elias Mambo
Diplomatic sources this week said the US embassy queried the inclusion of Mugabe’s family, namely the First Lady Grace Mugabe, their daughter Bona and grandson Simbanashe. The delegation also includes Mugabe’s son Bellarmine Chatunga as well as Russell Goreraza, Grace’s eldest son.
“Passports were submitted last week for visa applications at the US embassy, but officials queried the number of delegates and declined to offer a visa to one of the journalists from the state media,” a source said.
“Mugabe’s entourage will be away for 10 days and government gives each member of the delegation US$1 500 per day.
“At a rate of US$1 500 per day which is paid to all the members of the delegation as per diems, this means each delegate will receive at least US$15 000 for the 10-day trip,” said the source.
More than 150 world leaders are expected to attend the UN Sustainable Development Summit from September 19-23 at UN headquarters in New York to formally adopt an ambitious new sustainable development agenda.
This agenda will serve as a launch pad for action by the international community and by national governments to promote shared prosperity and well-being for all over the next 15 years.
Mugabe is expected to address the world leaders on September 21. Although the summit runs from September 19, Mugabe and his delegation are departing on September 16, sources said.
Mugabe’s globetrotting saw 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 basic medication such as painkillers for public hospitals.
According to figures obtained from the 2017 national budget, while recurrent expenditure, mostly civil service wages, gobbled up 97% of the US$4 billion 2016 national budget as of September, the Office of the President and Cabinet spent US$34,4 million on foreign trips that have yielded no tangible benefits for Zimbabweans.
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.
In 2014, members of Mugabe’s entourage flaunted their penchant for merry-making and luxury shopping by buying expensive designer suits in New York, angering poverty-stricken Zimbabweans who took to social media to express outrage.
In 2011, Mugabe’s wife, who has gained notoriety for her exorbitant shopping sprees during official UN visits, was denied a visa by the Swiss government despite being part of Mugabe’s delegation.
While attending a UN food summit in Rome in 2008, Grace was reportedly spotted shopping and loading “whole palettes of Gucci and Ferragamo parcels onto a private jet after shopping sprees spending hundreds of thousands of (US) dollars”.