PRESIDENT Emmerson Mnangagwa took a bloated retinue of 90 people to this week’s United Nations General Assembly in New York, including Zanu PF youths who took part in an anti-sanctions demonstration.
The inclusion of the youths left the United States embassy in Harare dumbstruck. This also follows as it emerged that Mnangagwa’s wife, Auxilia, flew to the US separately with her own sizable delegation, which included her security team, officials from her Angels of Hope charity organisation and a crew of journalists from the state media.
Both teams are reported to be enjoying hefty allowances funded by Treasury, at a time the government has been asking the citizenry to endure the pain induced by its austerity measures, which have severely eroded incomes and impoverished the majority of the population
Government sources this week revealed that the US embassy granted visas to a total of 90 individuals travelling to New York on a “state-sponsored visit”.
The sources said that even though the embassy expressed concern over the inclusion of dozens of party youths on the presidential entourage, the government insisted on travelling with them, arguing they were part of President’s Mnangagwa’s security.
“A total of 90 visas were granted to these people. There were initial concerns about some of the members of the entourage but they were later granted visas,” a US embassy official said.
A government official who saw some of the travellers’ cabinet authority documents said the least-paid members of the entourage was entitled to a daily allowance of US$1 500 each, paid in hard currency.
This means Mnangagwa’s team is spending a total of US$1 350 000 for the 10 days on allowances only for 10 days in the world’s economic capital city, excluding air tickets.
Sources said the First Lady and her crew travelled to the US in two days in advance using a commercial flight.The cheapest ticket for a return flight to New York from Harare was pegged at US$1 260 as of Wednesday last week.
Other members of the entourage were booked on different commercial flights while Mnangagwa travelled in his favoured chartered Swiss luxury jet with a few members of his inner security and aides. Finance minister Mthuli Ncube and his Health counterpart Obadiah Moyo were also aboard the high-priced aircraft, chartered from Swiss aviation firm Comlux for US$30 000 per hour.
The total cost of hiring the jet for the expedition exceeds US$1,5 million.
“Mnangagwa’s entourage will be away for a total of 10 days and government gives each member of the delegation US$1 500 per day, which is paid to all the members of the delegation as per diems. This means each delegate will receive at least US$15 000 for the 10-day trip,” a government source said.
The New York junket comes in the middle of a crisis in the country’s health sector with doctors on strike demanding an increase in their salaries and better conditions of service.
It also comes as ballooning inflation, which has decimated earnings and pushed prices of basic goods and services beyond the affordability of many.
By the time Mnangagwa jetted out, the capital Harare was reeling from an acute water crisis after the city council declared it had lost capacity to purify the water it pumps into homes, citing shortage of foreign currency to buy the water treatment chemicals.
Despite evidence of economic implosion, Mnangagwa’s administration, which assumed power following a military coup in November 2017 before claiming a razor-thin controversial victory in the July 30, 2018 general election, argues that it is devising measures to steady the turbulent economic ship through its extremely unpopular and ruinous belt-tightening measures.
Despite government’s persistent pleas, tempers are flaring in the country as the austerity measures continue to bite deeper. In response, government has had to resort to brute force to quell the protests.
Mnangagwa is following in the footsteps of his late predecessor, Robert Mugabe, who repeatedly courted controversy by transporting massive hangers-on to the annual jamboree.
In the sunset years of his controversial rule, Mugabe’s entourages would flaunt their penchant for merry-making and luxury shopping by buying expensive designer clothes in New York, one of the world’s most expensive cities, angering poverty-stricken Zimbabweans who would take to social media to express outrage.