The Herald (Harare)

8 February 2013

Zimbabwe: Biti Reckless Statement Causes Shivers in Spain

Finance Minister Tendai Biti's reckless statement that Government is broke almost scuttled Zimbabwe's co-hosting, with Zambia, of the United Nations World Tourism Organisation general assembly this year. Tourism and Hospitality Minister Walter Mzembi, who was in Spain last week for trilateral meetings with Zambian and UNWTO officials, said Minister Biti's utterances had caused alarm and despondency during the meetings.

The Minister was speaking after meeting Prime Minister Morgan Tsvangirai in Harare yesterday.

"I was giving the Prime Minister (Tsvangirai) feedback on the second trilateral session that we had in Spain last week," he said.

"I told him the session went well but the issue of the national balance had caused anxiety to the UNWTO secretariat. The Minister (Biti) announced that Government was reeling on the brink of bankruptcy and only US$217 was left in the account and the UNWTO team sought to understand how we could host such an event when we reach such critical levels in terms of national balance."

Minister Mzembi said the Zimbabwean team advised the UNWTO secretariat to dismiss the statements as they could have been taken out of context.

"We explained to them our position and on Tuesday after Cabinet I approached Minister Biti over the issue and he told me that the issue was taken out context.

"Fortunately, in my delegation we had principal director in charge of budgets in the Ministry of Finance, Mr Pfungwa Kunaka who was able to attest independently as to the veracity of the statement. This did help to put us back on track,"

Minister Mzembi said Government officials should desist from pronouncing issues that cause despondency with other parties that are keenly looking on us as a destination ahead of the general assembly.

"As we move towards the general assembly, we should be careful in whatever we do but I am happy that we got back with everyone impressed with our preparations. We were given a clean bill of healthy in terms of our preparedness," he said.

He said the stakeholders involved in the preparations were now working towards the connectivity of Africa to other world countries.

"We are now working on the plan for the policy content side of the general assembly and we will be looking at issues such as distance access," he said.

"You may not know that of all the airlines that operate out of African soils, there are hardly four that are viable and they may not include even the flag carriers. As a result, together with the secretariat we will seek to interrogate how Africa can be assisted to raise viable national airlines."

Minister Mzembi said Zimbabwe was ready to host the event.

"We are spot on in terms of preparedness and we will keep on guiding our technocrats and tying the loose ends," he said.

Commenting on threats by Germany that it would boycott the convention, the minister said the European countries were in support of the event.

German ambassador Mr Hans Gnodtke recently said his country could boycott the convention to protest what he termed "seizures of tourism investments owned by Germans."

"The ambassador was expressing his opinion and the UNWTO has six regional commissions including the Europeans," he said.

"He is an advocate of European interests in Zimbabwe but what he said does not bind with the regional commission. As we were in Spain, many delegates from Europe told us that they would infact bring their families to the convention."

Zimbabwe and Zambia are co-hosting the 20th session of the general assembly which runs from August 24 to 29.

This will be the second time it will be held in Africa after Senegal hosted it in 2007.

The general assembly is expected to bring about 2 000 delegates among them tourism ministers from the 186 UNWTO member states, supporting staff, investors and international tourist wholesalers.

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