Zimbabwean President Robert Mugabe, Prime Minister Morgan Tsvangirai and Cabinet ministers ran up a travel bill of some US$50 million last month despite the Treasury’s call for government to pull back on such trips, Finance Minister Tendai Biti says.
According to the Independent daily Newsday, Biti told a budget consultation meeting in the provincial capital of Masvingo this week that top officials have ignored his urging that they cut back on foreign trips and reduce the size of their delegations.
Biti said he has no power to stop President Mugabe, Mr. Tsvangirai and other top officials from embarking on such trips. President Mugabe is known to travel with an entourage of 60 aides or so including state security agents, all paid daily allowances of up to US$250 dollars on top of the cost of their air fares and hotel rooms.
Mr. Mugabe attended the United Nations General Assembly in New York last month with a large delegation before flying to Singapore for medical care. Mr. Tsvangirai visited several countries including the United States during the same period.
A Masvingo villager who asked to be identified only as "Sithole" told VOA reporter Jonga Kandemiiri that some of the US$50 million spent on travel last month could have been used to buy food for the many undernourished people in Zimbabwe.
Commentator Masimba Kuchera said all these trips have failed to attract investors. "Most of these trips are hopeless even if some of them cannot be ignored," he said.
Economist Eric Bloch said Parliament is the only branch of government that can rein in such spending. "If Parliament comes up with stringent regulations to minimize these trips President Mugabe, the prime minister and Cabinet ministers will be compelled to restrict their travel," Bloch told VOA Studio 7 reporter Gibbs Dube.
Elsewhere, Biti says the government has started removing some 70,000 so-called ghost workers from state payrolls. The process won’t be completed until the end of the year but is critical to easing budget pressure to continue paying higher civil servant salaries.
The Public Service Commission is finalizing the method to be used to winnow out state workers who were hired through an irregular process or don’t show up or do no meaningful work.
Secretary General Japhet Moyo of the Zimbabwe Congress of Trade Unions says announcing the removal of ghost workers is not enough and the finance and public service ministries must provide some proof the process is actually moving, adding there have not been sufficient statistics or number of back up claims of such removal.
Employers Confederation of Zimbabwe Executive Director John Mufukare says it’s time government got serious about removing ghost workers. Mufukare says the paying of non-workers by the state has largely disrupted the wage level in the country.