PRESIDENT Robert Mugabe could have clocked over 200 000km in the air and used over $80 million in flight travel this year alone according to information gleaned from close government sources.
BY BLESSED MHLANGA/RICHARD CHIDZA
Mugabe has visited Singapore nearly 10 times this year alone covering a total distance of over 160 000km. Mugabe frequents Singapore reportedly to get medical attention.
In April Mugabe covered more than 25 062km to and from New York, making the distance longer by a stopover in Singapore. This was after he had just jetted in from a 25 358km trip to Japan.
In less than a week, Mugabe flew to South Africa, then Singapore to pick up his wife and grandchild landing in Zimbabwe only to proceed to Papua New Guinea covering a distance of 24 350km return.
Mugabe has also been to Uganda for the swearing-in of fellow strongman Yoweri Museveni. He has also been to Russia, India, Ethiopia and Equatorial Guinea tagging along huge delegations.
Former Finance minister Tendai Biti recently told a Crisis In Zimbabwe meeting that each time Mugabe left the country, he carried with him $4 million in cash.
“President Robert Mugabe’s appetite to travel has put a strain on government recurrent expenditure because every time he leaves the country he carries with him $4 million which is physically taken from the RBZ RTGS system and, therefore, worsening the liquidity crunch,” he said.
MDC-T spokesperson Obert Gutu said the travels have effectively bankrupted the country and cost Air Zimbabwe millions of dollars.
“President Robert Mugabe enjoys travelling, air travel is his number one hobby. This year alone, he has clocked more than 100 000 air miles and in the process, his endless travels have cost the bankrupt national Treasury a whopping $80 million. He is arguably the most travelled leader in the whole world,” he said.
Jacob Mafume of the People’s Democratic Party said Mugabe was in fact at the centre of externalising the scarce foreign currency in the country.
“One of the biggest sources of externalisation of the US dollar has been the President’s travels, therefore, instead of creating bond notes they should stop the President’s plane from travelling,” he said.
Gutu said if Mugabe stops the travels the money could be useful in meeting part of the government wage bill, among other obligations.
“Of course, this is a national tragedy because it is a notorious fact that the national coffers are dry and that the government is even struggling to pay civil servants every month. However, Mugabe always makes sure that his numerous and entirely purposeless foreign trips are adequately funded. He carries with him no less than S$4 million on each foreign trip,” he said.
Mugabe’s unending foreign trips have been linked to the biting cash shortages that have forced the Reserve Bank of Zimbabwe to introduce bond notes.
First Lady Grace, on the other hand, has also travelled immensely. Insiders claim all those travelling on government business take with them huge sums of cash and in the process have contributed to the crippling cash shortages that have forced fiscal authorities to announce the impending introduction of “bond notes”.
Tourism minister Walter Mzembi, Foreign Affairs minister Simbarashe Mumbengegwi, Patrick Chinamasa (Finance) and Oppah Muchinguri (Environment) also join a list of top foreign travellers who have turned into visitors to Zimbabwe.
Mzembi is currently flying across the world canvassing for support on his bid to be secretary-general of the United Nations World Tourism Organisation.
Mugabe reportedly travels with a delegation of no less than 40 people.
Mugabe early this year embarrassingly travelled to India for what was dubbed a “road show” before aborting the trip over “security concerns” in a cloud of dust.
Biti said Mugabe and his delegation hardly use plastic money and the country will have little reserves of cash to service the economy with the rate of trips continuously increasing.
“At the end of the day our problems are economic and rooted in failure of leadership more than anything else. Mugabe is siphoning out of Zimbabwe $4 million for every trip and this in cash,” Biti said.
Opposition MDC-T policy chief Nelson Chamisa said the cash shortages were an artificial construction by Mugabe and his Zanu PF cronies to send people on a wild goose chase
“When Mugabe and ministers travel the tragedy is they want to travel in the expensive business class. The best way to stop externalisation is to avoid all unnecessary foreign travel. Externalisation is not done by ordinary people, but by the high and powerful and is exacerbated by extravagance,” Chamisa said.
A former Cabinet minister during the Government of National Unity from 2009 to 2013, Chamisa said top government officials bleed the country on allowances.
“Nobody can deny it because if I am not mistaken each time a minister travels they are given not less than $5 000 in allowances and they have turned it into a cash cow, some form of business. There is no better form of economic sabotage than this. Our country has become a danger to investment and capital. Ordinarily it should not be criminal for people to spend their money where they want. Instead we should be criminalising those who have bastardised our economy and turned it into a danger to capital,” Chamisa added.
The Kuwadzana East lawmaker’s claims corroborate revelations by former National Healing co-minister Moses Mzila-Ndlovu who told a recent public discussion that opposition officials joined the gravy train and also partook in bleeding the country’s coffers.