The Zimbabwean government is expected to fork out ZW$80 million (US$4,5 million) for funding members of the Political Actors Dialogue (POLAD) set to visit various nations in an attempt to spruce up the country’s image amid calls by the United States to tighten targeted sanctions imposed on some ruling Zanu PF officials, allegedly perpetrating human rights abuses.
According to the privately-owned newspaper, POLAD members Thokozani Khupe, Willard Mugadza, Kwanele Hlabangana, Aplonia Munzverengwi and Khaliphani Phugeni are expected to visit Washington, London, Brussels, Pretoria, Paris, London and other cities next month.
Presidential spokesperson, George Charamba, told the newspaper that the cost of the trip is nothing compared to the impact of the targeted sanctions imposed on top Zanu PF officials.
Charamba is quoted as saying, "Now you say ZW$80 million … How much is that compared with the cost of sanctions? They are chasing a programme to have the sanctions removed. And remember they are going to be paying in United States dollars where they are going, they need to pay for accommodation, food, travel. It is a mission, and they are actually pulling a pillar policy of the Second Republic. It is part of their commitment on areas they wanted to look at, including the legislative reforms, policy reforms, uniting the nation and economic recovery. It is part of a solution to a common challenge."
Observers say the country should have used the money in sourcing fuel and food in the southern African nation devastated by a crippling drought. POLAD is an entity formed by President Mnangagwa soon after he won the contested 2018 presidential election.
Reacting to the POLAD foreign trips, the MDC led by Nelson Chamisa said in a statement, “As Zimbabwe’s economy sinks to plumbing depths, with the country’s hospitals and clinics without basics such as gloves, bandages and painkillers, fringe political leaders under the POLAD banner will spend millions of scarce foreign currency visiting global capitals on a purported international re-engagement drive.
“It is unfathomable that POLAD comedians could spend US$4,5 million in scarce forex on useless trips to Brussels, Washington, London and Paris while innocent Zimbabweans are dying at home. That money would have been put to better use if it had been used to procure basics for the country’s major referral hospitals or importing food for the starving millions.”
The MDC further attacked Mnangagwa’s POLAD, saying it is heartless.
“These POLAD actors are real actors in the literal sense of the word. An African proverb asserts that a man should not chase rats when his house is burning. And spending scarce foreign currency on trips to foreign capitals while the nation starves is akin to doing precisely that. Zimbabwe is on a precipice. There is starvation in the countryside. Civil servants and our uniformed forces are suffering. Villagers, students and urbanites can barely survive while these fringe political actors burn scarce money on ill-advised trips.
“This heartlessness is all the more reason why President Chamisa said he will not join this POLAD charade. In the middle of this suffering, we cannot have politicians spending scarce money on foreign travels that bring no dividend to despondent Zimbabweans.”
The Zimbabwean government last year hired private companies at a cost of over US$2,3 million to campaign for the removal of the targeted sanctions imposed by the West following claims of election rigging and human rights abuses by the ruling party and government.
The United States Senate Foreign Relations committee recently urged Treasury secretary Steven Mnuchin and Secretary of State Mike Pompeo to press for the updating of the list of people under targeted sanctions saying the political situation in Zimbabwe has not changed following the removal of the late president Robert Mugabe from office in 2017.
In a statement, the committee said, "While the United States has been the top provider of humanitarian and development aid to meet the needs of Zimbabwe's people, the government of Zimbabwe has implemented a misinformation campaign blaming the country's woes on targeted sanctions programmes implemented by the United States.
"It is important that the United States communicate to the people of Zimbabwe that our sanctions programmes are aimed at deterring human rights abuses, public corruption, the undermining of democratic processes or institutions, and political repression in Zimbabwe. They are not aimed at the Zimbabwean people.
"Given the developments in Zimbabwe over the last two years, we urge you to consider enhancing the tools at your disposal, including the use of targeted sanctions, to incentivise changes in behaviour by the Government of Zimbabwe ... An update to the list of the Specially Designated Nationals and Blocked Persons list should incorporate a balance of new designations with appropriate removals."