Finance minister Tendai Biti on Tuesday unveiled his 2011-12 mid-term budget review with a call on the government to “extensively” cut down expenditure incurred during foreign trips as this has a telling effect on the National Budget.
Already, an excess of $30 million has been gobbled in the first six months of the year in foreign travel.
Said Biti: “As I present this budget, without even including the July figures, we have spent over $30 million in foreign trips alone.
This remains a concern that we call upon the leaders of the government as well as fellow ministers to look into because the expenditure, in relation to foreign travel alone, has remained relatively high.”
While it is essential for government leaders and their officials to travel for other government missions, the expenditure would have to be managed to enable government to meet other demands.
For the government to cut on travel expenses, one needs to appreciate that it must not be rhetoric, but it must start by the leaders themselves — in particular President Robert Mugabe and Prime Minister Morgan Tsvangirai.
What comes to mind immediately is a United Nations youth meeting President Mugabe and his wife Grace are attending in New York.
Apparently, he seems to be cutting a lone figure at this youth forum as he is the only Head of State attending. One would believe Youth minister Saviour Kasukuwere would have done a better job there.
Curiously, President Mugabe reportedly took with him a bloated delegation of nearly 100 individuals the bulk of whom are from his office. What benefit would all of them give to Zimbabwe? This is why cutting expenditure in government should start with politicians.
With an estimated 13 million people depending on the same budget, one wonders whether President Mugabe has interests of the general public at heart — what with his endless foreign trips almost every other month.
He never misses any opportunity for foreign travel, even if sending a low-profile delegation would have been ideal.
This, at a time other sectors like education and health also need funding from this same budget.
Civil servants also expect something from the budget. And yet, politicians do not seem to realise the importance of dealing with foreign travel disease.
On the other hand, in the budget review, Biti seems to have taken a protectionist approach by introducing duty on foodstuffs, apparently to protect the local industry. This at a time the 14-nation Sadc bloc is moving away from this approach.
Recently, Zimbabwe and its Sadc neighbours signed a Free Trade Area agreement to liberalise the market.
This is not on, protectionism does not work. The country needs to open up and embrace new technology that will enable local companies to be competitive rather than protect them, which will result in the population failing to get good service.
The economy is limping and a quick remedy is needed immediately. In addition, the disagreements in the inclusive government should be stopped so that the country can move forward.