Zimbabwe’s government of national unity in spent $28.4 million on trips abroad by senior officials during its first seven months, the Finance Minister said, this at a time when Harare needs US$8 billion for economic reconstruction.
Finance Ministry figures indicate that the money spent on foreign travel was nearly 23% of the US$126 million allocated to ministries for operations and maintenance through October under the 2009 national budget. The unity government was put in place in mid-February of this year.
President Robert Mugabe, Prime Minister Morgan Tsvangirai and other top figures in the "inclusive" government have been travelling widely in the past nine months seeking to re-engage the West and Europe after years of frosty relations.
The offices of the president and prime minister declined to comment. But critics said much of the travel was wasteful as it yielded no visible benefit.
Economist Prosper Chitambara said such official travel spending was crowding out essential and high-priority areas of need such as health and education.
In its Short Term Emergency Recovery Program crafted soon after the formation of the government, the Finance Ministry said it needed donations and credit lines totaling some US$8 billion to revive the shattered economy.
Western countries have provided considerable humanitarian relief in the months since the unity government was formed, but have been unwilling to provide substantial development aid until Harare implements major reforms.