Zimbabwe: Mugabe Trip Gobbles Millions

PRESIDENT Robert Mugabe will next week gobble millions of dollars when he takes a huge entourage of more than 50 government officials to attend the fifth Tokyo International Conference on African Development (Ticad) from June 1 to 3, the Zimbabwe Independent can reveal.

Top government sources said Mugabe is expected to take a high-powered delegation of cabinet ministers, directors of ministries, their political aides, personal assistants, national security personnel and specialists from government departments to a three-day conference that gives an opportunity for African countries to interact with their Japanese hosts.

The trip, wholly funded by Treasury, is expected to drain millions of taxpayers' dollars in airfares, accommodation and general upkeep of the delegation in state-of-the-art hotels in Japan's Yokohama city.

Finance minister Tendai Biti has frequently warned government should limit foreign travel to sustainable levels. Mugabe spent more on foreign trips compared to any official in the inclusive government in 2012. His office was allocated US$15 million by Treasury and had chewed up US$20 million in six months, overshooting the budget by 133% by mid last year, according to sources in the Finance ministry. Most of the money funded foreign travel.

In June last year Mugabe came under serious criticism after blowing more than US$7 million when he took an entourage of 92 to the United Nations (UN) conference on sustainable development in Brazil.

In his 2012 national budget proposals, Biti warned against excessive foreign travel saying the executive had blown US$45,5 million on trips in the previous year.

Yumi Sakata, advisor at the Japanese embassy in Zimbabwe, said African governments were encouraged to send as many delegates as they could afford to the conference.

"There is no limit on the number of delegates, so governments can send as many people as they can afford so as to have a chance to exchange ideas," she said.

Sakata also said Japan launched Ticad to promote high-level policy dialogue between African leaders and development partners on issues facing Africa, such as economic development, poverty and conflict.

Ticad is co-hosted by the government of Japan, the African Union Commission, the United Nations Office of the Special Advisor on Africa, United Nations Development Programme and the World Bank. Its stakeholders include all African countries and development partners.

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