BY EVERSON MUSHAVA
PRESIDENT Emmerson Mnangagwa’s cashstrapped government will spend over US$1,5 million over three years after hiring a lobbyist linked to the United States President Donald Trump in a bid to have sanctions it says are impeding its economy removed, documents filed with US authorities have shown.
According to the disclosure filing, American firm, Ballard Partners – which fundraised for Trump during the 2016 elections – will counsel Zimbabwe on “communication with US government officials, US business entities and non-governmental audiences”.
The contract signed by Foreign Affairs minister Sibusiso Moyo and Brian D Ballard of Ballard Partners shows that Zimbabwe committed to a three-year contract that runs from this year and will be required to pay $500 000 annually, bringing the cost to a minimum of $1,5 million, plus registration fees, travel and hotel expenses.
Moyo signed the agreement on February 13, while Ballard, the firm’s president counter-signed on February 26.
“The firm shall receive from the client $500 000 a year, payable in quarterly instalments, for this agreement, plus the reasonable costs associated with the representation, including, but not limited to, necessary registration fees; and travel expenses such as overseas hotel, air fare, car services and meals, excluding costs typically associated with the operation of an office, such as overhead, staff, and equipment,” the agreement read.
“The fee shall be paid in quarterly instalments of $150 000 with the first quarterly instalment due immediately upon execution of this agreement, second instalment due on June 30, 2019; third instalment due October 13, 2019; fourth instalment due February 13, 2020; and continuing to be due on a quarterly basis until the termination of the agreement. The firm will bill costs quarterly.”
Mnangagwa desperately needs foreign funding to revive Zimbabwe’s economy, which is all, but impossible to achieve without the US shelving the Zimbabwe Democracy and Economic Recovery Act, which Trump renewed in August last year. The Act is seen as undermining Zimbabwe’s ability to access lines of credit from international financial institutions and attract much-needed foreign investment. The Act empowers the US to oppose funding from institutions such as the International Monetary Fund and the World Bank, among others.
This week, Trump extended the sanctions for another year, saying he was not convinced with the reforms by Mnangagwa’s administration which he described as a threat to the US foreign policy. However, Zanu PF spokesperson Simon Khaya Moyo has accused the Western economic giant of pursuing a regime change agenda.
According to the contract, Ballard Partners will consult with Zimbabwe and advocate on its behalf those issues the country deems necessary and appropriate before the Federal government.
“In as much as the government of Zimbabwe has been denied access to international financial institutions and been under intense diplomatic pressure from Western countries, it shall be the main objective of the firm to encourage a re-examination of Zimbabwe by the State Department with a view to establishing the best possible bilateral relationship with the US.
“The form will facilitate the restoration of Zimbabwe’s membership in good standing in the community of nations, including permitting Zimbabwe the opportunity for unhindered participation in international financial institutions and other relevant international organisations.
“It shall further be the firm’s duty to inform the client of developments in legislation and policy relevant to the client’s operations,” the contract read.
In return, Zimbabwe will be required to provide Ballard Partners with all the necessary information to allow the firm to offer her adequate guidance. Zimbabwe will also be required to timely compensate the firm for services rendered.
In an interview with US publication, Politico, James Rubin, a former State Department official in the Clinton administration, who will be the lead lobbyist for Zimbabwe, said the country had improved since the days of Mugabe.
“It is far, far better than Zimbabwe’s government was under former President Robert Mugabe,” Rubin said.
Better relations with the US could also “encourage Zimbabwe not to turn to China or Russia”, he said.
“I’d rather they work with us than with the Chinese who don’t care at all about human rights,” he said.
Former US ambassador to Zimbabwe Bruce Wharton criticised the strategy as a waste of resources.
“Tragic waste of public funds, the return on investment here is likely a negative – no change in US policy (presumably what they hope to buy) and a further decline in Zanu PF’s credibility on real reform,” Wharton tweeted on Wednesday.
Information deputy minister Energy Mutodi claimed that “the sanctions imposed on Zimbabwe are illegal and are being informed by the opposition MDC, whose officials have been frequenting the US and misinforming the Americans on the state of affairs in Zimbabwe.
“It is surprising that while our new government has made several strides in reforming the democratic processes culminating in a free and fair election last July, the US government continues to insist on further reforms some of which are not easily achievable.”
He said although Zimbabwe was a young democracy, it was surely not the worst in Africa, but was the only country treated with hostility by the Western super power.
“This, therefore, presents an extraordinary situation for us as a government that requires efforts beyond normal diplomatic engagement,” Mutodi said.