SENIOR government officials reportedly secretly contacted the United Nations (UN) secretariat seeking to attend the UN General Assembly and other routine meetings, a leaked memo from Agriculture permanent secretary John Basera’s office has shown.
Sources in government revealed that all permanent secretaries were directed by Cabinet to write memos exposing several officials from different ministries who separately contacted the UN secretariat.
The 2022 UN General Assembly is starting today in New York.
Attending the foreign meetings reportedly offered a handsome windfall for many of the hard-pressed government officials, who are getting their salaries in local currency.
Information at hand suggests that officials who managed to go to the UN General Assembly received at least US$10 000 each.
According to the memo dated September 5, 2022 from Basera’s office, the UN secretariat protested to the country’s mission in New York over several emails from government officials soliciting to cover the UN conference.
“The United Nations secretariat has complained to our mission in New York over the conduct of some government officials who directly contact the secretariat to attend UN meetings. The practice is unprocedural and undiplomatic and, therefore, government officials are hereby directed to desist from such behaviour,” the letter signed by Basera read.
“It is also of concern that there are other scenarios where delegates travelling to New York for UN sessions end up attending the sessions virtually or travel to the sessions out of time, and attend closing sessions. This is an unnecessary wastage of resources.
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“In line with the pronouncement by his Excellency the President (Emmerson Mnangagwa) on the need to apply prudence when undertaking foreign trips, officials in the ministry are called upon to take note of the observations above in order not to bring the country’s name into disrepute.”
Contacted for comment, Basera said: “I was away for the past three weeks and I’m only coming back now. It should have been signed by an acting permanent secretary and definitely not me, and thanks for verifying.”
A highly-placed source who requested not to be named said: “It is not officials from the Ministry of Agriculture only who bombarded the UN secretariat soliciting to attend the meetings. There are several ministries whose officials solicited for the trip. It is embarrassing for the country.”
The source said Mnangagwa touched a raw nerve during the opening session of the 2022 Cabinet in January when he directed ministries to cut down on foreign trips.
“I have observed a worrisome trend (of) ministers; you are now prone to foreign travel, along with your senior officials. This unbecoming culture should stop forthwith,” Mnangagwa said in his opening remarks at the 2022 first Cabinet meeting held at State House.
However, senior officials believe that Mnangagwa wants to “eat alone” following his junkets across the globe at taxpayers’ expense.
This year alone, President Mnangagwa has made several trips among them the one to Davos, which cost thousands of dollars.
Last week, he was in Kigali, Rwanda, where he was attending the Africa Green Revolution Forum 2022, an annual nature conservative summit.
Yesterday, he left for Kenya to attend the inauguration ceremony of President-elect William Ruto.
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.
The President 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 in November 2017, Mnangagwa has drawn public criticism over his love for foreign travel, as he follows in the footsteps of his predecessor, the late Robert Mugabe who acquired the moniker, Vasco da Gama, the 15th century voyager who criss-crossed the globe in search of new lands.
A few months after he was elected into office, Mnangagwa visited Russia, Belarus, Azerbaijan, Kazakhstan and Switzerland, among other countries on what he called a re-engagement mission.
Efforts to get a comment from Information minister Monica Mutsvangwa and her permanent secretary Ndavaningi Mangwana on the backdoor attempts by government officials to attend the UN conference were fruitless at the time of going to print as their mobile phones continually rang unanswered.