LISA TAZVIINGA/CLOUDINE MATOLA
PRESIDENT Emmerson Mnangagwa and his bloated entourage splashed US$12 million on travel expenses between January and September this year at a time government is battling to contain an intractable economic crisis.
However, the US$12 million reflected in the proposed 2020 budget estimates of expenditure contained in the blue book is a conservative figure, considering Mnangagwa’s endless flights aboard a luxurious hired jet which took him to Japan in August at a cost of US$1,7 million before he jetted to New York the next month for the United Nations (UN) General Assembly at roughly the same cost.
By August, Mnangagwa’s flying adventures had taken him to 40 destinations aboard the regal plane which costs US$30 000 to hire for an hour.Mnangagwa’s unbridled spending on lavish travel has seen government spend ZW$195 448 930 million (US$12,2 million at Interbank rate) on local and foreign trips in the first eight months of the year.
Calculations based on the budget estimates of expenditure tabled in parliament by Finance minister Mthuli Ncube reveal Mnangagwa used US$12 215 558 when converted at the current interbank rate. Actual figures of expenditure up to September 2019 outlined in the blue book, indicate that the Office of the President and Cabinet spent ZW$12 979 637 (US$811 227) on domestic travels, while ZW$182 469 293 (US$11 404 330) was on foreign trips.
According to the blue book, the money spent on travel by government was in excess of ZW$2 million of the year’s budget which was estimated at ZW$165 745 811 (US$10 359 113).
Since ascending into power through a military coup that toppled former president Robert Mugabe after nearly four decades of rule, Mnangagwa and members of his administration have been globe-trotting in search of much-needed foreign investors, under the “Zimbabwe is open for business” mantra.
Mnangagwa has also been seeking lines of credit to kick-start the comatose economy.In the first nine months of last year Mnangagwa’s travels had gobbled US$23,2 million against a foreign travel budget of US$17 million, according to the Finance ministry.
On most of his foreign travels, Mnangagwa has been using a luxurious jet operated by Swiss aviation Comlux, hired at US$30 000 per hour.In July Mnangagwa attended the United Nations General Assembly in New York accompanied by a bloated entourage of 90 people, including Zanu PF youths.
Despite the rhetoric on austerity, government has been spending millions of taxpayers’ money on other controversial projects such as hiring four top-notch international public relations firms this year, to facelift the country’s battered image, in addition to numerous travels.The Ministry of Finance also allocated ZW$3,1 billion (US$187,6 million) to the Ministry of Defence and War Veterans.
While sectors which are critical to reviving the ailing economy, such as the Ministry of Industry and Commerce as well as the Mines ministry, have been allocated ZW$368 million (US$23 million) and ZW$293,2 million (US$18,3 million) respectively.
Ironically, the government is failing to address the water crisis and power outages due to lack of funding. Harare City Council has pointed out that it had lost capacity to purify the water it pumps into homes, citing shortages of foreign currency to buy the water treatment chemicals.
It also comes as runaway inflation, which has decimated earnings and pushed prices of basic goods and services beyond the affordability of the majority of Zimbabweans.
Annualised inflation, currently at 440% has forced local firms to adopt hyperinflationary reporting despite Ncube having projected single digit inflation for next year.