BY MIRIAM MANGWAYA
PRESIDENT Emmerson Mnangagwa yesterday warned Cabinet ministers against globetrotting with no tangible results at a time when the country faces an economic meltdown, with millions swimming in deep poverty.
Mnangagwa, who was addressing ministers at the first 2022 Cabinet meeting at the State House yesterday, said endless foreign jaunts with a bloated entourage by his ministers had become “a worrisome trend”.
Last week, Mnangagwa forced Cabinet ministers, heads of State-owned entities and parastatals to sign performance contracts in a bid to enhance accountability and good governance.
“Against the backdrop of the signing of performance contracts last week, let us increase our work rate towards being a more successful government. Individually and collectively, we have a sacred obligation to press on for more, better results,” he said.
“In the same vein, I hope that invitations for me to officiate at the various events of your ministries will, this year, be submitted in time. Lastly, I have observed a worrisome trend where, as ministers, you are now prone to foreign travel, along with your senior officials. This unbecoming culture should stop forthwith.”
Mnangagwa’s government has, on several occasions, been criticised for living lavish lifestyles at a time when the majority of citizens are wallowing in poverty.
Despite the rhetoric on austerity, government has been spending millions of taxpayers’ money on controversial projects such as hiring four top-notch international public relations organisations to facelift the country’s battered image, in addition to numerous travels.
Last year, Mnangagwa made headlines after he took with him more than 100 people to the 26th edition of the United Nations Climate Change conference in Glasgow, Scotland, including family members, friends and Zanu PF youths on taxpayers’ funds.
Mnangagwa reportedly hired a private jet from former Soviet Republic Azerbaijan at a reported cost of US$1 million to travel to the summit, which critics described as unnecessary extravagance.
After coming to power on the back of a coup at the end of 2017, Mnangagwa has drawn public criticism over his love for foreign travel — all undertaken in luxury private jets.
A few months after he was elected into office, Mnangagwa blew millions of State funds on visits to Russia, Belarus, Azerbaijan, Kazakhstan and Switzerland, among other countries.
“Cabinet’s workflow should be more predictable so that we focus more on the implementation of policies and programmes. You are all required to ensure that your proposals are submitted in time to enable Cabinet to deliberate on the matter more robustly,” he said as he presided over the ministers’ performance contracts last week.
Observers yesterday dismissed Mnangagwa’s statements on foreign travels as a bluff and a gimmick to hoodwink the unsuspecting public.
Former Finance minister and Citizens Coalition for Change vice-president Tendai Biti accused Mnangagwa of dishonesty.
“It is deceit and lies. No Cabinet minister travels out of the country without Cabinet approval and it’s Mnangagwa who issues Cabinet approval. No minister travels out of the country without the approval of the President. This is just a statement full of dishonesty because Mnangagwa is the one who signs the approvals for the trip,” he said.
Zimbabwe Coalition on Debt and Development programmes manager John Maketo said citizens should be worried over ministers’ foreign jaunts with no return on investment.
“It should not only worry the President, but all citizens when ministers are gallivanting and globe-trotting in huge numbers. Ministers should travel where necessary and there should be accountability on their travels,” Maketo said.
“There must be a return on investment on the travels. We want to see results that benefit the general public. It is very unfortunate that most of the travel is not bearing fruit when taxpayers’ money is spent.”
Parliamentary Portfolio Committee on Budget and Finance chairperson Mathew Nyashanu said most foreign travel by government officials was unnecessary.
“While foreign travel is necessary for appreciation of best practices across the globe through benchmarking exercises and for research and development, some of the travels by government officials is extremely wasteful and unnecessary,” he said.
“This is bleeding an already burdened fiscus. The President’s comment is in line with the ongoing Public Finance Management reforms, where we are trying to tighten screws on public expenditure. We are in the process of strengthening our Public Finance Management in order to reduce such leakages.”
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