GOVERNMENT had by end of March spent at least $100 000 on luxurious hotel accommodation and meals for the losing July 30 2018 presidential election candidates involved in a dialogue process initiated by President Emmerson Mnangagwa.
The figure is likely to be much higher now.
Seventeen of the 23 presidential candidates who took part in the elections are participating in the dialogue.
Presidential spokesperson George Charamba confirmed that four technical committees, with a representative from each party, were set up for the dialogue. Each technical committee has met five times.
Six of the candidates, including MDC Alliance candidate Nelson Chamisa, have refused to take part in the dialogue. Chamisa has previously argued that Mnangagwa has no locus standi to oversee the dialogue process because his legitimacy is in question, although he has shown willingness to shift his stance in recent days.
Alliance for the People’s Agenda president Nkosana Moyo and Build Zimbabwe Alliance leader Noah Manyika attended the initial meeting, but subsequently pulled out.
The presidential candidates and their delegations have been staying at the five-star Rainbow Towers Hotel in Harare during deliberations. Presidential candidates have been using suites ranging between $420 to $605 per night at the time. Discounted rates for standard rooms at the Rainbow Towers ranged between $280 and $345 per room.
One of the candidates could not contain his excitement in putting up in the plush hotel, which he was calling the Sheraton (the hotel’s former name), boasting that he was enjoying spending state funds. Government has justified the spending, saying nobody can place a price on national peace and cohesion.
“Because this is a process that is being driven by the state through National Peace and Reconciliation Commission and now working together with the Gender Commission, it is an obligation borne by the state. So what we do is we cater for their travel, we cater for their boarding in Harare and then their meals,” Charamba said.
“They are guests of the state and necessarily it means we bear the costs. We avoided any cash disbursements because we were trying to avoid abuse of such funds. Boarding, subsistence and travel, it’s a full support that we are giving them. The larger point to make is, what is the price of absence of national cohesion, can you put a dollar value to it? So to us the least of our worry is the dollar value of the cost of building a dialogue. What is critical to us is rebuilding national cohesion after years of a fractured society, so to us the dollar value doesn’t quite matter.”
Charamba said the process taking place was not different from negotiations, where the issue of legitimacy was being questioned, but focussed on nation building.
“I don’t expect the likes of Chamisa to join the dialogue just yet, they need dialogue within their own party. The technical meetings were meant to prepare the methodology of the dialogue. Those are the ones that had those four committees, so they have been meeting regularly so that they give recommendations to the plenary,” he said.
“We are making fundamental progress in the sense that we have had a second plenary, where we moved from selling the concept of a dialogue to tackling substantive issues to deal with the methods and moving on working methods to deal with specific themes which begin to address the state of the nation.
“Obviously, you will get excitable characters who would not have been at the Rainbow Towers. Remember these are people, some of them, who are political upstarts, some of them shot to the limelight in 2018, so we should budget for some bit of excitement on their part, except that can’t be an issue, because I would be keen to see who in MDC Alliance would throw the first stone given they were part of the Government of National Unity.
“It’s a potpourri of characters, some are excitable, some quite mature and some quite experienced politically. So, really, one wouldn’t want to paint everyone with just one brush.”