HARARE – President Robert Mugabe’s latest trip to Ethiopia, which came barely 24 hours after he had returned home from his annual and taxpayer-funded month-long sojourn in the Far East, has triggered fresh anger and heated debate among long-suffering Zimbabweans.
Angry opposition parties and civic groups which spoke to the Daily News yesterday said there was “absolutely no justification” for the increasingly frail nonagenarian to continue “blowing” millions of scarce American dollars on his myriad travels at a time that the country was facing severe economic turbulence, including debilitating cash shortages.
Mugabe left Harare on Saturday to attend the African Union summit in Ethiopia, having been on a five-week State-funded vacation in the Far East — which the opposition claims cost poverty-ridden Zimbabweans a staggering $6 million.
Civic groups also argued yesterday that Mugabe could have saved a lot of money — in insurance costs and per diem allowances for his large entourage which includes government officials and security aides — if he had proceeded straight to Ethiopia from the Far East.
Official figures show that Mugabe, who turns 93 next month, blew a whopping $36 million in the first 10 months of last year alone on his many trips abroad, a princely sum that is way bigger that the budgets of many ministries.
During the time of the inclusive government five years ago, the nonagenarian exceeded his annual foreign travel budget by a massive 133 percent in a mere six months.
Opposition leader Morgan Tsvangirai’s MDC slammed Mugabe’s profligacy yesterday, telling the Daily News that this was worsening the country’s dire economic plight.
“Mugabe is the non-resident president of Zimbabwe. Put differently, he ordinarily resides outside Zimbabwe and now and again visits the country.
“He just paid a short visit to Zimbabwe to drop off the First Family’s shopping before he departed for Addis Ababa, Ethiopia, to attend the AU summit,” MDC spokesperson Obert Gutu said.
“This is a complete and total disgrace. The man has completely and absolutely lost it. He is a national liability. In the MDC, we would be quite pleased if Mugabe could stay permanently outside Zimbabwe.
“Surely, the country is better off without him. How can he come to collect his per diem of $4 million in cash from the bankrupt national treasury before he dashed off to yet another foreign jamboree in Ethiopia? This is a total shame,” Gutu added.
The Zimbabwe People First (ZPF), which is led by former Vice President Joice Mujuru, said Mugabe’s endless trips were depriving the country of much-needed foreign currency.
“Mugabe and his Zanu-PF acolytes have found these trips as a ‘legitimate’ avenue through which they milk State funds.
“We are also aware that a lot of money is being drawn from the treasury as contingency funds and these funds are never returned to treasury even when there is no emergency on the trip,” ZPF spokesperson Jealousy Mawarire told the Daily News.
“His (Mugabe) desire to be always on the plane doesn’t speak anything about the comfort and hospitality on Air Zimbabwe, but about the obscene love for money by an old man who should know better about selflessness and commitment to the country.
“He came back on Friday and left the following day without attending to the dongas on our urban roads or the ravaging effects of rains that have pounded most parts of the country.
“All he cares about are the travel allowances he will get on this trip to Ethiopia and others on the calendar this year.
“Would it not have been sensible to forfeit the millions in allowances and ensure that every cent goes towards the many disasters ravaging the country, ranging from typhoid to potholes and flood destructions among other things,” Mawarire added.
Civic leader, Gladys Hlatywayo, said it was clear no one could stop Mugabe’s endless jaunts, to the detriment of the country.
“The challenge is that in an authoritarian regime, the supreme leader is the law and anything he says is religiously followed and taken as gospel. No one can challenge his word without negative ramifications for those people.
“It is also clear for everyone to see that the sorry state of the economy does not bother our government. They have a penchant for travelling and staying in expensive hotels.
“One does not see any attempt at cutting costs, or any acknowledgement that we are operating in difficult circumstances … it all defies logic,” Hlatywayo said.
On Friday, Zimbabweans were hit with another dose of bad news when one of the government’s advisers revealed that the country had only about $304 million in hard cash still left in circulation, including $73 million in bond notes — a situation that reflects the country’s dying economy and worsening cash and liquidity crises.
Ashok Chakravarti, who advises the Office of the President and Cabinet on improving the ease of doing business in the country, told a Confederation of Zimbabwe Industries (CZI) symposium that the country was in deep economic crisis.
“If you look at comparative studies from other economies, cash to deposit ratio should be between 10 percent to 12 percent. If an economy has got less than 12 percent, it faces a liquidity crisis. We need $900 million in cash to have adequate liquidity,” Chakravarti said.
And as Zimbabwe’s economy continues to die, the World Bank last year downgraded the country from its list of improved economies to the unflattering tier of struggling countries, as Harare’s political and economic turmoil continues to escalate.
In its publication titled Africa’s Pulse, the Bretton Woods institution said the country had failed to register significant economic growth over the past few years.
“Zimbabwe’s fiscal deficit has deteriorated as remedial actions have been limited and this has resulted in the country registering a negative correlation between the cyclical components of government consumption and GDP,” it said.
Meanwhile, economists also say average incomes in Zimbabwe are now at their lowest levels in 60 years, with more than 76 percent of the country’s adult population having to make do with less than $200 a month.
This, they add, means that poverty levels have reached “numbing levels”, amid indications that the situation will worsen in 2017, as the Zanu PF government continues to demonstrate its inability to fix the worsening Zim rot.