Africa

Zimbabwe's embassies are feeling the squeeze

Kudzai Mashininga

The country's 40 embassies and five consulates are not being paid what has been budgeted for them — and their bills have fallen into arrears.

Limited service: Zimbabwe’s embassies and consulates around the globe — such as the one in Cape Town above —  have been hit by a serious cash crunch that is affecting the services they can offer. (David Harrison, M&G)

Zimbabwe's foreign missions are struggling with a $13-million debt, something that could affect consular services and the government's work in promoting the country.

The country has 40 embassies and five consulates around the globe and their plight this year has been exacerbated by the fact that the 2013 budget was said to be a "paper" budget, meaning the treasury did not have the money to disburse the allocated amounts.

Last year's budget allocated $63.2-million for the missions but, as of November, unaudited expenditure shows that it disbursed only $35.2-million.

A report by the parliamentary committee on foreign affairs, headed by a former envoy, Amos Midzi, who is a Zanu-PF MP for Epworth, says that it understands that part of money for the salaries for the diplomats is generally diverted to operational costs to avoid evictions and other associated consequences.

Salaries for diplomatic staff are usually paid late and are always in arrears.

The report says staff from the ministry of regional integration and international co-operation, which was created in 2009 when the inclusive government was formed, were transferred to the ministry of foreign affairs when the unity government was dissolved.

School fees in arrears
This has saddled foreign affairs with excess personnel who cannot be supported by the available resources, the report says.

It also says the school fees for the children of foreign service personnel are in arrears.

"Motor vehicles used in most embassies are now high-maintenance vehicles due to ageing, with the embassy in France being the most notable example, which is using a vehicle purchased in 1996.

"The ministry is in arrears on rentals, utilities, school fees for staff children and salaries," reads part of the report.

Because of limited resources, the foreign affairs ministry is failing to provide training to staff or to hold joint commissions with other governments.

The report says most of the office and residential accommodation for diplomatic missions is rented.

No salary increament for diplomats
Foreign affairs secretary Joey Bimha was not available for comment but last month he told the foreign affairs parliamentary committee hearing, before the latest report was drafted, that the cash crunch has also seen the envoys go for 10 years without a salary increment.

"Over the past 10 years, we have never increased salaries of our diplomats because of the problems we are facing. We have never paid them any bonuses because the situation we are in does not warrant that," Bimha said.

As a long-term cost-cutting measure, the report says it would be better for Zimbabwe to own properties for its missions rather than renting.

The ministry was said to have a target to buy three or four properties a year but this has not been possible because of lower budget allocations and the non-release of funds by the treasury.

The situation at Zimbabwe's embassies has been dire for years and the government has failed to reverse the downward spiral because of a lack of funds. The report says the government could also play its part by reducing its missions.

"As a short- to mid-term measure, the committee recommends a leaner foreign service which is fully funded.

Need for realignment of embassies
"Therefore, there is need for strategic realignment of Zimbabwe's embassies abroad looking at the economic and political interests of the country," the report reads.

"On the issue of staff being transferred from the former ministry of regional integration, the office equipment of the former ministry should also be transferred to the foreign affairs ministry as a cost-cutting measure on the purchase of office equipment."

It could not be ascertained whether staff from the international co-operation ministry had been moved, along with their equipment.

In 2009, lawmakers also exposed the extent of the underfunding of Zimbabwe's foreign missions.

That year, another parliamentary report revealed that the country's ambassador to Mozambique was walking to work because Harare could not afford to give him a car.

The embassy in Maputo did not have a single functional vehicle.

Also at that time, the ministry of regional integration and international co-operation had only one vehicle allocated to it.

Since then, the situation at most embassies has deteriorated because of limited funding from the treasury in the face of competing priorities.

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