Zimbabwe is broke, fails to pay Diplomats, postpones Ministers' retreat

HARARE – Embattled Zimbabwe unity government owes its diplomats US$ 30 million in arrears as at December 31 as the forex crunch hits foreign missions amid reports that some staff in embassies have abandoned their jobs and are now engaged in manial jobs.

A retreat for ministers has also been postponed due to lack of finance and some Ministers have no offices. 

President Robert MugabeFinance Minister Tendai Biti said Wednesday during the presentation of the revised US$ 1 billion budget in Parliament, that available resources were inadequate to meet the growing needs.

"Our embassies in foreign countries require over US$3 million per month. This obligation is before account is taken of over US$30 million we have incurred in arrears as at December 2008," Biti said.

Zimbabwean diplomats, used to leading comfortable lifestyles in foreign lands are currently living like paupers as the forex crunch affects diplomatic missions.

Zimbabwe has 78 missions across the world. Ambassadors are paid between US$ 11 000 to US$ 13 000 a month depending on political seniority.

Reports from Sweden and Austria say officers were evicted from their homes after failing to pay rent due to the non-payment of salaries and have now camped at their ambassadors’ residences.

In India, Iran and Austria landlords for the chancelleries and residences had approached their ministries of foreign affairs to lodge complaints about the non-payment of rents by Zimbabwean missions.

In certain countries where it is legal, spouses had resorted to seeking employment to support their families.

Under the Global Political Agreement signed on September 15 last year, Zanu PF, MDC-T and MDC are supposed to share diplomatic mission posts as part of the power sharing agreement. Analysts say the inclusive government formed last month will restore sanity in diplomatic missions.

Zimbabwe’s diplomats have been on a firefighting mode defending the country’s battered image.

Meanwhile the ministerial Retreat to coordinate operations of the all-inclusive government has been tentatively set for the first week of April as it emerged the cost of the event had become a problem for the Prime Minister’s Office.

Impeccable sources in the new government told our source on Thursday that the venue, which had been earmarked for the resort town of Victoria Falls had also been changed for Harare due to logistical problems.

The Prime Minister’s Office would need more than US$ 300 000 to fly, accommodate and feed more than 70 cabinet ministers, permanent secretaries, aides and among other support staff.

President Robert Mugabe postponed Ministerial Retreat two weeks ago because of the death of Susan Tsvangirai, the wife of Prime Minister Morgan Tsvangirai. But the government sources told our reporter it had now been penciled for April 3 – 5 April.

James Maridadi, the spokesman for Tsvangirai confirmed the postponement of the Ministerial Retreat. "The Ministerial Retreat has been moved to early April, tentatively 3,4 and 5 and the venue has also changed," said Maridadi. "I will get back to you as soon as possible with all details," he said.

The office of the Prime Minister proposed Ministerial Retreat to ostensible establish an agreed government action plan necessary for the implementation of a Short Term Emergency Recovery Programme (STERP) aimed at rescuing the troubled country. The STERP was expected to be launched in Harare on Thursday by President Mugabe.

According to Gorden Moyo, the Minister of State in the Prime Minister’s Office, the Retreat would have critically looked at STERP to enable each Ministry in the new government to design its 100-day programme.

"It is also meant to put to rest wrangling over overlapping of ministerial mandates," said Moyo.

Tsvangirai has asked all ministers to produce Status Review of their ministries clearly stating their human, financial and assets position.

The 100-day programme would commence after the Ministerial Retreat on April 6 or a date agreed with all the stakeholders. RadoiVOP