By Gift Phiri
HARARE – President Robert Mugabe’s trip to the United Nations (UN) conference on sustainable development in Brazil will blow in excess of $7 million after he carried a 92-strong delegation.
The move comes days after he abandoned a crucial government meeting on the economy to attend a pass-out parade for police recruits, putting his commitment to Zimbabwe’s economic revival in doubt. Sources said Mugabe shocked even his own ministers when he left the special meeting midway last week.
Ironically, it is Mugabe who had called for the special meeting — the first of its kind since the formation of the coalition government — to discuss key economic issues. Sources said Finance minister Tendai Biti raised the issue of the huge Rio trip bill — torching heated debate during the government meeting.
This was before the 88-year-old left for the pass-out parade, sources said.
Mugabe and his bloated delegation will join thousands of participants from governments, civil society and the private sector that will gather in Rio de Janeiro in Brazil today for the crucial summit where UN member states are expected to reaffirm their commitment to advance the green economy.
The Zimbabwean President was seen taking off from the Harare International Airport on Sunday night with 92 hangers-on, including medical personnel.
Also on the plane was Mugabe’s wife Grace, Environment and Natural Resources Management minister Francis Nhema, Foreign Affairs minister Simbarashe Mumbengegwi and dozens of senior government officials.
A senior government source said the entourage comprised Munhumutapa Building political aides, personal assistants, national security personnel and specialists from other government departments.
Zim 1, as he is known in secret service jargon, has demonstrated his penchant for big delegations especially when he is travelling to UN meetings.
The high-level meeting is expected to bring together over 100 heads of State and government, along with thousands of parliamentarians, mayors, UN officials, chief executive officers and civil society leaders to shape new policies to promote prosperity, reduce poverty and advance social equity and environmental protection.
The biggest international event this year, the UN summit, more commonly known as Rio+20, is meant to celebrate the Earth Summit of 1992, to reaffirm the political commitments made then, and to come up with up-to-date action plans to counter the crises which have become much more serious over the last 20 years.
Mugabe’s entourage of 92 people adds to an already bloated Zimbabwe government foreign travel budget. In his 2012 national budget proposals, Biti warned against the escalating foreign travel budget saying the executive had blown $45,5 million on foreign trips last year alone.
This means government was blowing more than $4 million on jet setting each month, a top line ripple for a bankrupt administration.
While Biti’s mobile phone was unreachable yesterday amid reports he was attending a meeting in Nyanga, he told Parliament last week that in the first five months of the year, the economy “has been in comatose and we have to take drastic measures.”
Biti said he was revising downwards his $4 billion 2012 budget because of low revenue trickling in.
“There will be austerity, there will be living within our means, there will be expenditure retrenchment and there will be selling of silverware, there will be reform of the mining sector, there will be reform of the supply side of the economy and tomorrow we are going to have an intense discussion,” Biti told the House of Assembly last Wednesday about the special government meeting last Thursday.
On Mugabe’s abrupt departure from the government meeting held last week, a senior government official said: “He (Mugabe) chose to chase rats while leaving his house burning.” Daily News
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