By Faith Zaba/Herbert Moyo
PRESIDENT Robert Mugabe and his ministers in the Office of the President and Cabinet are living large despite a stubborn economic crisis at a time government revenues are dwindling due to a shrinking tax base.
Figures from the 2015 budget statement show that much more is being spent funding Mugabe’s foreign trips compared to what is allocated to, say, economic ministries which should be spearheading the country’s economic revival efforts.
This year, Mugabe’s office spent close to US$200 million, while economic ministries combined spent less than US$115m.
Actual figures of expenditure up to October 2014 outlined in the blue book presented by Finance minister Patrick Chinamasa a month ago show the President’s Office spent US$161,1m, of which US$32,6m was used on foreign trips.
In 2014, the Office of the President’s administration and general expenditure up to the month of October totalled US$153,9m. The money was spent on goods and services, maintenance, unspecified programmes as well as employment costs. A further US$7,1m was spent on state residences.
Mugabe is known for globe-trotting even when the country is burning. This year, he made several trips to Europe, the Far East and within Africa, gobbling millions at a time Treasury is hard-up.
Mugabe attended the African Union (AU) summit in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia, in January where he was elected African Union Bureau vice-chair.
In May he travelled to Singapore where a video of him entering a world-class private hospital, Gleneagles Parkway Cancer Centre, went viral largely because of his wife Grace and two bodyguards’ futile attempts to stop journalists from filming him.
The visit to the hospital, which offers the best cancer treatment in the world, fuelled speculation on Mugabe’s health although government claimed he was only being treated for an eye ailment.
In the same month he travelled to South Africa where he attended South African President Jacob Zuma’s inauguration after the ANC’s electoral triumph, before flying out to Dubai for a series of diamond meetings.
In June, Mugabe headed for Bolivia to attend the 50th anniversary celebrations of the G77 group of developing nations that also includes China.
He also flew to the Equatorial Guinea capital, Malabo, to attend the 23rd ordinary session of the AU.
Hardly two months later, Mugabe left for a state visit to China on a trip highly publicised for the “mega investment deals” signed that would bring relief to the Zimbabwean economy, but so far the country has not enjoyed any tangible benefits from the agreements.
On his way back, he stopped over in Singapore for what was believed to be yet another medical check-up. However presidential spokesperson George Charamba said the stop-over was merely for re-fuelling purposes.
Mugabe also took a large entourage to the United Nations General Assembly in New York in September.
In October, he left for Rome where he attended a beatification ceremony for Pope Paul VI at the Vatican, while in November he was in Vienna, Austria, where he attended a conference on landlocked developing countries.
He also attended an Africa-Turkey summit in Equatorial Guinea during the same month.
Mugabe and his wife were also at President Michael Sata’s burial in Lusaka, Zambia, in November.
The President and his family are currently on a one-month state-funded holiday in the Far East and are expected back on January 15.
He is accompanied by not more than 10 aides who are paid hefty allowances to be at his service during his annual holidays. The figures paid to the aides can amount to over US$15 000 each.
Money spent on his foreign trips is far much more than what each economic ministry gets for the year.By end of the year, Mugabe’s office would have gobbled close to US$40m in foreign trips, according to 2014 figures, which makes the amounts allocated to economic ministries such as Industry and Commerce, Mines, Small and Medium Enterprises (SMEs) and Tourism pale in comparison. The figures dramatise government’s skewed priorities.
Up to October 2014, Mugabe had spent US$1,23m on domestic trips alone in addition to the US$32,6m.
According to the blue book, the Ministry of Industry and Commerce spent US$17,3m up to October, while Mines spent just US$2,5m, SMEs (US$2,6m), Tourism (US$2m), Energy and Power Development (US$1m) and Youth and Indigenisation (US$31,6m).
For 2015, Chinamasa appropriated US$190m for the President’s Office, while Industry and Commerce is getting US$23m, Mines US$18,3m, Youth and Indigenisation US$43m, SMEs US$14,4m, Energy and Power Development US$10m and Tourism US$3m.
While economic ministries — except Agriculture which received US$225m — secured paltry budget allocations, social ministries were better supported. Health was allocated US$377m and Education US$919m. Lands got US$14m, Transport US$289m, Water US$197m and Justice US$123m.
In addition to an inordinate allocation to the President’s Office, security ministries will gobble US$1bn of the 2015 budget. Defence was allocated US$380m and Home Affairs US$485m.
While Mugabe and his ministers spent US$32,6m on foreign junkets in 2014 up to October and US$1,2 on domestic travel, Chinamasa drastically reduced the travel allocation in 2015 to US$14,9m for foreign travel and US$700 000 for domestic trips.
The administrative expenditure for the President’s Office for 2015 has been set at US$173,9m, while state residences were allocated US$9 876 000. In the midst of the extravagance, Zimbabwe is battling high unemployment estimated at over 80% and Chinamasa has been criss-crossing the globe in search of an elusive financial rescue package to kick-start the moribund economy.
As many as 400 workers are being retrenched on a weekly basis as companies continue to close, while service delivery has deteriorated.
According to sources at the Retrenchment Board, more than 6 020 workers have been retrenched from January to November 2014.
Zanu PF has come up with an economic blueprint, ZimAsset, which requires about US$27 billion to fully implement between 2013 and 2018, but government has so far failed to mobilise the funds despite Mugabe and Chinamasa’s trips to China where they sought at least US$4bn in budgetary support. Zimbabwe Independent