11 February 2013

Zimbabwe: Biti Promises Millions to Save UN Conference

Finance Minister Tendai Biti has reportedly promised that an estimated US$12 million will be made available to the Tourism Ministry, in an effort to save the in-doubt UN conference in Victoria Falls in August.

According to the Standard newspaper, Biti told Tourism Minister Walter Mzembi that "everything is under control," and the money will be made available. Mzembi told the newspaper that he got this commitment from Biti last week, two days before a closed-door meeting with Prime Minister Morgan Tsvangirai.

"We need a total of US$12 million to say that we are safe and I got commitment from Biti that everything is under control," Mzembi was quoted as saying.

The Tourism Minister is also set to embark on an African tour soon, trying to convince governments across the continent to support Zimbabwe's efforts and ensure there is a good turnout for the event.

The UN World Tourism Organisation general assembly is set to be co-hosted by Zimbabwe and Zambia in August, but Zimbabwe is still unprepared. Key upgrades to infrastructure at Victoria Falls have not happened, and the money Biti has set aside is meant to ensure the changes are made.

But there are serious doubts that the event can get underway, with even the UN Tourism authorities raising concerns about recent developments. Mzembi was left outraged after he was questioned by the UN Tourism Secretariat at a recent meeting in Spain, about reports that he led the takeover of the Renco Mine.

He is understood to have also been left furious after Biti publicly announced that the government was broke, intensifying the doubt that Zimbabwe can meet the UN standards for the meeting.

Political analyst Clifford Mashiri told SW Radio Africa that Zimbabwe should never have tried to host the meeting in the first place "and the failure to hold it now will damage the credibility of the country even further."

Mashiri said the conference is linked to international efforts to "normalise" what is happening in Zimbabwe, with Western countries trying to re-engage as much as possible with the government. Australia and the EU have both indicated they will drop restrictive sanctions against ZANU PF, despite a lack of change in the country.

"This is a big problem for Zim and it is all linked to the economic interest of the Western world who are worried about the interests of China in Zimbabwe," Mashiri said.

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