Spat looms over Prime Minister's newsletter

HARARE, – Zimbabwe's information ministry says it is investigating whether a newsletter published by Prime Minister Morgan Tsvangirai's office is legal.

The state Sunday Mail newspaper, a mouthpiece of President Robert Mugabe’s party, says the four-page publication set Tsvangirai on a "collision course" with government colleagues.

The newsletter contains details of Tsvangirai’s current trip to re-engage with Western nations after a decade of isolation for Zimbabwe. The Sunday Mail says Tsvangirai should first have reported to Cabinet colleagues.

Chief information secretary George Charamba is quoted as saying his department is "looking at what the law says."

Rivals Mugabe and Tsvangirai joined in a coalition government in February.

A report in the Sunday Mail –  Prime Minister’s Office is headed for a clash with Cabinet after it published a newsletter with details of the Prime Minister’s tour of Europe and America without seeking authority from Cabinet, it has been learnt.

It is understood that the newsletter, printed on gloss paper, entitled "From the Office of the Prime Minister", that was published on June 17, has a print run of about 400 000.

Prime Minister Tsvangirai embarked on the tour after being sent by President Mugabe and Cabinet and it is understood that procedurally his office should first brief Cabinet before putting details of the tour into the public domain.

Highly placed Government sources yesterday told The Sunday Mail that the move by the Prime Minister’s Office had undermined Cabinet and could lead to a clash between the Office and Cabinet.

"The newsletter is raising issues that the Prime Minister dealt with during his overseas trip. The PM was sent by Cabinet and his tour was funded by Government and so his office cannot produce a newsletter with details of the trip before briefing Cabinet.

"We are told that USAID was involved in this publication, and so does this mean that American printers were briefed of the PM’s tour before Cabinet? Does the PM expect President Mugabe to turn to the newsletter to know what’s going on?

"What has happened to the Oath of Secrecy? If this was an NGO trip, why did he withdraw Government money? And how much was involved in this glossy newsletter?

"So the little aid that the PM is getting is already being burnt by American printers? Should we say the PM has lots of food for the mind and not food for the stomach? There are so many unanswered questions?" said the source.

The June 17 newsletter had a lead story entitled "Obama supports PM", with a picture of the PM and the US President on the front page.

PM Tsvangirai is on a tour of Europe and America where he was sent by President Mugabe and Cabinet to call for the lifting of the illegal sanctions and seek financial loans to revive the economy.

So far the PM has raised US$73 million from the US government that pledged to channel the funds through non-governmental organisations and not the Government. He also got about 20 million euros from Germany.

A lecturer in media studies at the Midlands State University, who spoke on condition of anonymity, said a newsletter is meant to service an internal public of an organisation who happen to be the workers.

He said under AIPPA, such a newsletter is not required to register, but with a circulation of about 400 000, that surpasses the print run of most newspapers in Africa. It was difficult to classify the publication as a newsletter.

"A newsletter’s print run shows the approximate number of workers in an organisation and so by printing 400 000 copies, are we saying the whole of Zimbabwe’s workforce is in the Prime Minister’s Office? Given the number of copies and the targeted consumers, it is clear that this is an organ of mass communication," explained the lecturer.

The Permanent Secretary in the Ministry of Media, Information and Publicity, Cde George Charamba, said his ministry was aware of the publication.

"We have seen the publication, which purports to be from the Prime Minister’s Office, noted its circulation figures and we are looking at what the law says," said Cde Charamba. In an article entitled "PM behaved like a grateful slave," that was published on newzimbabwe.com, an online publication, the Tsholotsho North Member of the House of Assembly, Professor Jonathan Moyo, said the newsletter was distributed by USAID "with embarrassing pictures of Tsvangirai posing separately with Hillary Clinton and Obama to whom he deferred".

Prof Moyo said the USAID pamphlet was presented as a newsletter from the Prime Minister’s Office "when it is clearly an American propaganda sheet".

Said Prof Moyo: "What is shameful is that while civil servants are going without salaries, while the UZ remains closed, while farmers struggle to plant wheat and while peasants have been reduced to the life of hunter gatherers, Americans are showering Tsvangirai’s Office with precious US dollars to print and distribute neo-colonial propaganda on glossy paper in the streets of Harare and Bulawayo."