President Robert Mugabe travelled to New York with a bloated delegation of up to 80 people that included several Cabinet ministers, security aides and support staff.
Cabinet, which sits every Tuesday, yesterday failed to do so because President Mugabe and several ministers are in the United States.
A US Embassy spokesperson yesterday confirmed processing 80 visa applications for the delegation to the 65th Session of the United Nations General Assembly (UNGA) and the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs) Summit.
Although the total amount of taxpayers’ money needed for the trip could not be ascertained last night, government sources said the delegates were each being paid at least $250 daily.
The trip will gobble thousands of dollars as the President was also expected to travel to Ecuador after the UN meeting.
A senior government official last night said since the meeting coincides with the MDGs Summit, President Mugabe should have taken with him only ministers of foreign affairs, health, labour and social welfare and education.
“It does not need 80 people,” said a senior government official. “What he needs are the relevant ministers and supporting staff of two per minister.
The President would perhaps need five security aides, five support staff and the First Lady.” The visas were processed although there were delays in processing the visas for Central Intelligence Organisation boss Happyton Bonyongwe and ZBC chief correspondent Reuben Barwe.
This trip with the inflated delegation comes at a time when Finance minister Tendai Biti in his last budget review urged government to cut on travel expenses.
US Embassy spokesperson Sharon Hudson-Dean said Bonyongwe’s visa was processed on Friday while Barwe’s was done yesterday.
She said the visas had taken slightly long to process because many people had applied for visas to travel with Mugabe at the same time.
“All members of the Zimbabwe official delegation, including Mr Bonyongwe, received their visas by September 17. There were approximately 80 members of the delegation, including the Air Zimbabwe crew,” said Hudson–Dean in an interview with NewsDay last night.
“The journalist, Mr Reuben Barwe, is not part of the official delegation and his application was held up due to administrative processing. His visa was issued to him today (September 21).
“Although Zimbabwe is subject of a Presidential Proclamation that restricts certain government officials from travel to the United States, it contains an exception to permit the United States to meet its international legal obligations, such as those under the UN Headquarters Agreement, and to issue visas to Zimbabwe’s UNGA delegation.
“Visas for foreign officials to attend UN meetings in the UN headquarters district are adjudicated in accordance with all applicable laws and procedures, including both US law and the UN Headquarters Agreement.”
President Mugabe travelled with a group of ministers that is expected to meet with US officials as part of the country’s re-engagement efforts with the international community to end years of isolation.
They include Elton Mangoma, Patrick Chinamasa and Priscilla Misihairabwi-Mushonga. He also took with him Foreign Affairs minister Samuel Mumbengegwi, Health minister Henry Madzorera and Paurina Mpariwa, the Social Welfare minister.
The 65th Session of the General Assembly and the MDGs Summit started on Monday and will run until September 30.
President Mugabe yesterday told the UN General Assembly High Level Meeting on MDGs that Zimbabwe had demonstrated “unwavering commitment in the implementation of Millennium Development Goals”.