Zimbabwe diplomats struggling to make ends meet

There are revelations that the working conditions of Zimbabwes diplomats rank among the worst in the world and this has rekindled debate over the inclusive governments commitment to financing foreign missions.

Reports say that since the formation of the unity government in February last year, the disgruntled diplomats have not received their salaries. SW Radio Africa understands that staff at the diplomatic missions, the symbol of the countrys sovereignty in the family of nations, survives on allowances. To add to their woes, embassy staff in Rome, Italy, Switzerland, Portugal and Sweden has reportedly been given notice to vacate residences, due to rent and utility arrears. The Ambassador to Maputo, Agrippa Mutambara, walks to work after his official vehicle broke down last year.

The battered and old vehicle used by the Ambassador in Nigeria has become a laughing stock in diplomatic circles there. European based Zimbabwe diplomats with children have resorted to sending them to live with relatives in the United Kingdom, where education is free up to secondary school level. In the past government used to pay school fees for the dependents, and spouses used to get allowances, but those facilities were cancelled at the height of the economic down turn. Better pay is hardly the crux of the matter. The entire state of our diplomatic image is a shambles as underfunding paralyses the operations of missions, the diplomatic source said.

Its also alleged by a diplomatic source that the Foreign Affairs Ministry has been unable to recall ambassadors and other senior and junior officers, who completed their terms as far back as 200,8 citing lack of relocation funds. There is also frustration among those stationed at the Foreign Affairs head office at Munhumutapa offices who have waited for years to be posted to the abroad. This leads to a situation where a diplomat abroad is forced to remain at station for eight to ten years instead of one five year term, our source added.

While it is true some career diplomats have not been recalled owing to cash shortages, others have been rooted at their posts as a result of Robert Mugabes patronage system. Political appointees like Simon Khaya Moyo spent almost a decade in Pretoria as Ambassador and Boniface Chidyausiku has been in New York as Permanent Representative for ages because they defend Mugabe and ZANU PFs interests there. Zimbabweans have long complained that they dont get help from embassies abroad that seem to represent interests of people with links to ZANU PF.

Ideally, according to our source, diplomats are supposed to serve a term at any mission and in between periods they are either rotated or recalled back home to serve time at head offices before being posted to another station. As it is the diplomatic servce has been stagnant for years, owing to lack of funds. There was disquiet among the diplomats after the government spent $28 million in foreign travel when foreign mission staff are nearly destitute. Zimbabwe has nearly 38 ambassadors, high commissioners and heads of mission worldwide. Each mission has an average staff of eight officers. Eyebrows were raised when Robert Mugabe traveled with an entourage of over 60 people for a United Nations food summit in Rome, Italy, last year when the huge cost of that trip could have been used to pay some diplomats.

Late last year, the business community asked government to reduce the number of its embassies, consulates and missions abroad, as a first step towards containing expenditure in the 2010 national budget. The Zimbabwe National Chamber of Commerce (ZNCC) also proposed that government reduce foreign trips and use alternative methods to conduct business with international partners. ZNCC drafted a paper titled Voice of Business calling on the government to cut embassy staff abroad. In order to fund state expenditure wholly from revenues and also balance recurrent and non-recurrent expenditure, that is, without recourse to borrowing, the government should work towards the reduction in the number of Zimbabwean embassies, consulates and missions abroad while consolidating representation in various regions, ZNCC said in the document presented to Finance Minister Tendai Biti.

We could not contact Biti for comment as he was in Washington, USA on government business while Foreign Affairs Minister Simbarashe Mumbengegwi is in Ethiopia preparing for the forthcoming AU summit. Public Service Minister Professor Elphas Mukonoweshuro told us that once a civil servant is appointed as a diplomat, they cease to fall under his ministry. The Public Service Commission is responsible for recruiting staff for the Foreign Affairs Ministry but once an official is posted abroad, they no longer fall under civil service conditions. Their salaries are transferred from the Finance Ministry to Foreign Affairs without us being involved, so you will need to speak to Biti or Mumbengegwi, Mukonoweshuro said.

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