By Mugove Tafirenyika
HARARE – Zimbabwe’s diplomats are living rough as the cash-strapped Harare government struggles to pay salaries and other operational costs, a top government official has said.
This was revealed by Joey Bimha, the Foreign Affairs ministry permanent secretary.
He was presenting oral evidence to the parliamentary portfolio committee on Foreign Affairs on the state of affairs at the country’s diplomatic missions.
The country has over 40 embassies and five consulates around the globe.
Bimha informed the Amos Midzi-chaired committee that his ministry was facing a myriad of financially-related challenges which he blamed on lack of adequate budgetary support from Treasury.
This was affecting consular services and the government’s work in promoting the country.
The former ambassador to France said other major cost drivers for diplomatic missions besides salaries were contractual obligations, rentals, utilities, vehicles, equipment and buildings maintenance.
He said the buildings needed rehabilitation.
“In some cases, officers had to move to rented accommodation due to the derelict state of disrepair and inhabitable condition of the buildings,” Bimha told the committee.
He said Treasury had not provided funds to cater for these critical expenditure items for the past 20 months from May 2013, to December 2014 — a situation he said did not reflect well on the country at a time Zimbabwe is chairing both the African Union and Sadc.
He expressed fear that operations at the country’s 46 missions around the globe would grind to a halt due to non-provision of a monthly budgetary support of about $4,1 million.
“Due to lack of adequate budget support provision, the ministry now owes diplomatic staff $6 669 900 in salary arrears as at 31st December 2014,” Bimha said.
The committee was also informed that the ministry was in school fees arrears for diplomats’ children amounting to $376 900.
Foreign Service conditions of service require that government pays for tuition and boarding fees, in full, for diplomats’ children attending school in Zimbabwe.
Bimha said due to lack of operations budgetary support, diplomats are forced to first meet their children’s fees, with the ministry refunding them where it can.
“Unfortunately, these officers face double tragedy in that they are owed both salary arrears and school fees refunds,” Bimha said.
“This amount will increase on a termly basis in 2015.”
The committee also heard that as at March 6, 2015, Treasury had provided the January 2015 monthly salary allocation of $2,7 million without factoring in the operations budget of $543 750 which had been requested.
“Thus, in addition to salary arrears mentioned earlier, Treasury is two months behind in providing liquidity for running diplomatic missions and our officers have not received January and February salaries as we speak,” he said.
Rueben Marumahoko, Zanu PF MP for Hurungwe, queried how government fails to pay diplomats when other civil servants were being paid.
Bimha referred the lawmaker to Treasury saying his ministry was not responsible for civil servants’ salaries.
Kindness Paradza, MP for Makonde, also wanted to know if the ministry of Foreign Affairs had tried to be resourceful and source funds outside Treasury.
“I appreciate the importance of thinking outside the box but there are times when the box does not even exist. In our case, I think it is Treasury that must think outside the box,” Bimha said.
The situation at Zimbabwe’s embassies has been dire for years and the government has failed to reverse the downward spiral because of a lack of funds. Daily News