Sustainable development is the theme of the conference Robert Mugabe is attending in Brazil this week, yet the ailing ZANU PF leader reportedly took a delegation of 92 cronies, costing the cash strapped Zimbabwean economy more than $7 million.
Ironically, Mugabe himself convened a special meeting last week to discuss the economy, at which Finance Minister Tendai Biti is said to have sparked a heated debate over the cost of the Rio trip. But according to the Daily News newspaper, Mugabe left the meeting early to attend a police passing-out parade.
In his 2012 Budget Review the Finance Minister had warned about the extravagant travel costs of senior officials, saying $45.5 million had been blown on foreign trips last year. This averages out to about $4 million per month being spent on travel by government officials.
The size of Mugabe’s delegations when he travels abroad has long been a subject of ridicule and concern at the same time, with jokes being made about extravagant shopping trips while ordinary Zimbabweans struggle to feed their families.
Economic analyst John Robertson explained that Minister Biti has no power to change the situation, although he has frequently objected to the amount spent on these trips. According to Robertson Biti has been unable to get any legislation or policy changes made to stem Mugabe’s huge expenses.
“We see this as an effect of the President wanting to reward people who have served him in some way. It’s all part of the patronage system that the President has depended on for many, many years,” Robertson told SW Radio Africa on Wednesday.
The Daily News said the delegation to Brazil, which was spotted at Harare airport Sunday, included Mugabe’s wife Grace and a full medical staff that he now travels with. Also in tow was the Environment Minister Francis Nhema and Foreign Minister Simbarashe Mumbengegwi.
Robertson said it was a “disgrace” that these individuals have access to such funds when there are welfare organisations shutting down, people living on charity because government has taken their pensions and children who cannot afford to go to school due to a lack of facilities.
Regarding the conference, Robertson said sustainable development involves issues such as the practical use of scarce resources or the cutting down of indigenous hardwood timbers in Zimbabwe. Conservancies have also been plundered by war vets and military chefs who invaded them illegally.
“These issues are not being addressed by the individuals concerned. In fact they might be the ones who are calling for policy choices that do anything but promote sustainable development,” the economist explained.
Beside the financial cost of the trip, Tuesday’s cabinet meeting was cancelled because Mugabe insists that only he can chair this weekly meeting of coalition government ministers. This has also happened on many occasions when the ailing dictator leaves the country seeking medical treatment.