President Robert Mugabe spent $53 million on foreign trips during 2016, more than double the amount government allocated for the upgrade of public health facilities in the country during the year, Treasury data shows.
Frequent flier Mugabe has consistently overrun the travel budget and his critics accuse him of failing to prioritise critical sectors such as health and education, which are regularly underfunded.
The President, whose trips to Singapore for medical checks have increased in recent years, has flown out at least 13 times this year, averaging two trips per month.
Mugabe, who was in Ethiopia for the African Union mid-term summit earlier in the week, is estimated to have racked up more than 200 000 air miles since the beginning of 2016.
With his hard-up government set to follow up last year’s $1,4 billion budget deficit with another huge funding gap in 2017, Mugabe has resisted austerity measures proposed by his Finance Minister, Patrick Chinamasa over the past two years.
A Consolidated Statement of Financial Performance for 2016, published in the latest Government Gazette, shows foreign travel expenses stood at $53,27 million at the end of December, against a budget of $23 million.
The Office of the President and Cabinet’s foreign travel budget overran its revised estimate of $30,7 million in the first 10 months of 2016, with actual expenditure reaching $34,4 million in October, according to Treasury’s “Blue Book” for 2017.
The presidential foreign travel budget dwarfs total resources allocated to key institutions and ministries such as Parliament ($30 million), Industry and Commerce ($35 million) and Foreign Affairs ($32 million). Constitutional commissions, including the Zimbabwe Electoral Commission, were allocated about $23 million.
Outside the Office of the President and Cabinet, the ministries of Defence and Finance and Economic Development, had the highest foreign travel expenses in the first 10 months of 2016, amounting to $1 million (against a $600 000 budget) and $761 000 (out of a budgeted $1,145 million), respectively.
Foreign Affairs spent $577 000 during the same period, against a budget of $450 000.
Economist Vince Musewe said government’s expenditure on foreign travel reflected its misplaced priorities.
“This is the most ridiculous development, where a president of the now poorest country in Africa prioritises foreign travel which adds no tangible value to the country,” Musewe said.
“It is clear that he is more excited being in other countries than his own. It is also clear that he feels no urgency in resolving the economic meltdown at home.”
In contrast to its expansive travel budget, government allocated — but did not necessarily disburse — $23 million for capital projects to upgrade various public health facilities across the country in the 2016 budget.
These include $900 000 for works at Mpilo Central Hospital, $585 000 for Harare Central Hospital, $650 000 for Chitungwiza Central Hospital, $550 000 for United Bulawayo Hospital, $325 000 for Ingutsheni Central Hospital and $2,6 million for Parirenyatwa Hospital.
Provincial and district hospitals were allocated $5,3 million for infrastructure upgrades in the 2016 budget, while five rural health centres had a combined budget of $575 000. Nine mission hospitals were allocated $500 000, with $10 million being set aside as payment towards settling a $100 million medical equipment loan facility extended by China in 2011.
Government has throttled funding to vital social programmes in the health and education sectors, but has not slowed down its expenditure on foreign trips, which cost government $4,6 million in January 2017, against a budget of $1,1 million.
Treasury is required by law to publish monthly consolidated financial statements in the Government Gazette before the end of the subsequent month. The latest data release, for December 2016 and January 2017, is behind schedule. Financial Gazette
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