By Peta Thornycroft
HARARE – President Robert Mugabe’s medical costs, especially his regular shuttle to specialists in Singapore, are an expense bankrupt Zimbabwe cannot afford, financiers say.
He left for Singapore again on Wednesday and returns to Harare next Thursday, his third medical trip to Singapore in 90 days.
The cost of this trip will be at least R20 million, which will be covered by the State, and is being off-set against a hurriedly made arrangement to briefly attend a disaster risk conference in Japan which began on Friday.
Mugabe charters the national carrier’s only long-haul aircraft, a Boeing 767, for intercontinental flights, and it is one of only three planes still operating for Air Zimbabwe.
Air charter financiers in Harare costed the latest trip, based on rates regularly charged by Air Zimbabwe, at R10 million for Mugabe’s route, including two stopovers in Singapore and one in Japan.
“We estimate that AirZim only survives because of Mugabe’s trips as his office pays promptly and the airline is, in effect, bankrupt without cash from the presidency,” said the financial director of a busy privately owned air charter company in Harare.
The per diem advance allowances for Mugabe’s aides, who each get R18 000 to cover hotels, food and some transport, will cost about R8 million in total. At least 50 aides boarded the plane with Mugabe.
Mugabe’s medical costs at Parkway Hospital in Singapore will set Zimbabwe’s taxpayers back at least a further R200 000. His other costs such as transport and accommodation bring the total bill for this latest medical excursion to more than R20 million.
Mugabe went to pick up his wife after she had surgery in Singapore in January. He then took his family and several aides and other family members and friends to Singapore and the United Arab Emirates(UAE).
The Mugabe family is now spending ever more time in the UAE these days in between medical appointments in Singapore.
Taxpayers will, as usual, fund Mugabe’s trip, according to government spokesperson George Charamba.
Much of Mugabe’s medical costs since 2008 apparently arise from prostate and cataract surgery with unconfirmed rumours he had cancer.
As the economy continues to decline, there are ever more voices saying Mugabe’s lifestyle is no longer affordable.
Zimbabwe owes the International Monetary Fund R1, 24 billion and is only repaying R2 million per month, according to finance minister Patrick Chinamasa. The IMF says Zimbabwe cannot apply for loans until it has repaid its debt.
Economist John Robertson said Zimbabwe could not afford the Mugabe family. “Zimbabwe’s diplomats haven’t been paid for months. We have been expelled by Fifa from the 2018 World Cup because we cannot pay a coach. We are in dire straits and we cannot afford these kinds of extravagant foreign trips. Is he (Mugabe) saying he is more important than anyone else?”
Mugabe’s presidential expenditure is not defined in the national budget as it is dispersed among other budgets such as the Cabinet’s. – Independent Foreign Service