Webster Shamu

‘Underfunding threatening re-engagement efforts’

PRESIDENT Emmerson Mnangagwa’s international re-engagement efforts are under threat as the Treasury is failing to adequately fund the Foreign Affairs ministry, Parliament has said. 

Presenting the parliamentary portfolio committee on Foreign Affairs report in the National Assembly last week, chairperson Webster Shamhu (Chegutu East MP) said the country’s foreign missions were grossly underfunded. 

“In view of the shortfalls of the overall budget by minus 47 percent and the fact that the ministry of Foreign Affairs and International Trade utilises foreign currency in most of its activities as it drives the re-engagement agenda enunciated by the president, there is evidence that the ministry will not achieve its re-engagement targets,” Shamu said. 

“The following were noted as challenges which are impeding the ministry in achieving its mandate: Inability to host administrative meetings at missions’ residence aimed at promoting trade, investment and re-engagements. 

“Inadequate embassy vehicles — in some missions there are no representational vehicles and in others limited vehicles to carry out all mission duties.” 

Shamu said Treasury must make sure that they adequately fund the Foreign Affairs ministry so that it promotes brand Zimbabwe to the maximum. 

“The ministry of Foreign Affairs and International Trade mandate is to safeguard national interests of the Republic of Zimbabwe, promote trade and build the country’s image in the regional, continental and international arena. It plays a critical role in the attainment of Vision 2030 through its engagement and reengagement exercises,” the former Information minister said. 

“Cognisant of the above, our embassies are at the epicentre of the ministry’s mandate. Hence, the ministry of Finance and Economic Development must allocate adequate financial resources to support our foreign missions. 

“In a bid to minimise the challenges, the need to reposition the country and the need to achieve its mandate, the ministry submitted a budget totalling $32 726 289 000 (US$130 437 440).  

“However, the ministry received $14 877 305 000 (US$69 276 800) which reflects a shortfall of 47 percent.” 

Shamu said some of Zimbabwe’s embassy buildings were uninhabitable, for example, missions’ residence in strategic locations like New York, Windhoek, Pretoria, Lusaka and Maputo. 

On top of that, embassy staff is going unpaid for long months in foreign countries which exposes them to a high risk of being enticed to engage in espionage by intelligence services of their host nations. 

“Rental arrears — non-payment of rentals is still a major threat; with the worst-case scenario of staff being evicted or locked out,” Shamu said.  

“Salary arrears — this is a perennial challenge with the greater part of each new budgeted figure being consumed by the salary arrears only.  

“Salary arrears are viewed negatively as a breach of international labour laws by not paying workers accordingly. 

“Abrupt and delayed payment of salaries as — this has affected staff payment of rentals, school fees and medical bills for the staff and their families. Such delays negatively affect staff morale in the missions.” 

He also said the situation at the countries’ embassies is giving diplomats head ache as they are trying to lure investors. 

“The diplomatic missions will remain in a deplorable state which reflects badly on the country; negative image of the country and loss of confidence by investors in countries where Zimbabwean Embassy are in a bad state. 

“In ability to scale up Missions across the world. The ministry will risk losing its land in some countries if there is non-development of infrastructure especially in Abuja (Nigeria), Lusaka (Zambia), Pretoria (South Africa), Abu Dhabi, Ankara, New York and Kigali. 

“This budget item has a negative budget variance of 35 percent. This variance is worsened if there are any arrears to be paid. The ministry must allocate resources in full to this item as arrears or non-payment to these international bodies is unavoidable and will affect Zimbabwe’s participation in international groupings. More importantly, arrears to these international organisations have a negative effect on the country’s image,” he added. 

This comes as relations between Harare and London — which had lately showed signs of thawing — are regressing, with both sides increasingly taking hardline stances towards each other again. 

A war of words has recently erupted between Zimbabwe and the United Kingdom, with Harare accusing the former colonial master of interfering in the country’s internal affairs.