11 December 2009

Zimbabwe: Mugabe, PM Set for Costly Foreign Trips

PRESIDENT Robert Mugabe will next week take a 59-member delegation to the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change in Copenhagen, Denmark, while Prime Minister Morgan Tsvangirai's delegation will comprise 19 people putting a further strain on the country's financial resources.

The conference started on Monday this week with delegates working on a complex draft treaty to replace the Kyoto Protocol, while environment ministers and heads of state are due to arrive next week when major decisions will await them.

Delegations from the two Zimbabwean leaders will join an advance party which is already at the summit, bringing the country's total representation to more than 80 people.

The two leaders and their delegations are scheduled to travel separately with President Mugabe using the national airline -- Air Zimbabwe -- while Tsvangirai will connect to the Danish capital from Johannesburg and go via Switzerland or Germany.

This comes at a time when Finance minister, Tendai Biti, when presenting the 2010 budget decried the country's total expenditure on foreign trips which was put at US$28 million at the end of November.

This amount was used during the short life -- 10 months as at the end of November -- of the inclusive government giving an average of US$2,8 million per month.

While this figure covers all government officials, it is usually the president and the prime minister who travel with large contingents with the former averaging 60 delegates on the last two foreign trips.

President Mugabe has taken at least seven foreign trips since the inception of the Government of National Unity. Some of the countries he has visited include Italy for the UN World Summit on Food Security, Mozambique for the Sadc Troika meeting and South Africa for the inauguration of President Jacob Zuma.

He has also visited the Democratic Republic of the Congo for the Sadc summit, Egypt and Libya as well as Switzerland for the International Telecommunications Union Summit.

Apart from the cost government incurs paying for the transport for such large delegations, there are also allowances which are paid out each member of the entourage.

Any delegate travelling on government business is entitled to daily allowances which are based on their level or grade.

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