ZIMBABWE’S embassies abroad are facing a serious financial crisis with buildings in disrepair and envoys going without pay, forcing many to use public transport to go to work, a parliamentary committee has been told.
Legislators warned that the crisis was a serious security risk as the struggling envoys could be recruited by foreign spies due to their money problems.
The government is struggling with its finances due to a faltering economy and lack of international support.
Foreign affairs ministry permanent secretary, Joey Bimha, revealed the dire situation at the country’s 46 foreign missions to legislators on Tuesday in Harare.
Bimha told the parliamentary committee on Foreign Affairs that the French ambassador is often forced to use public transport because of problems with his 18-year-old official vehicle.
Said the Permanent Secretary: “If we are to take an example of Paris, the ambassador’s car which I used when I was there in 1996, it was bought in that year;
“It is still there and being used by the ambassador. It’s almost 18 years since that car was bought.
“At one time the ambassador had to use public transport to go to work, and this does not do well for the country’s image.”
Bimha explained that ambassadors represent the head of state in foreign lands, adding expectations were that they would be well-resourced.
“Our embassies are the face of Zimbabwe abroad,” he said.
“The image of the country is thus poorly represented due to lack of refurbishment of properties. This will be more visible with Zimbabwe being the current chair of both SADC and the Africa Union.”
In his presentation, Bimha said besides the transport crisis, most ambassadors and their supporting staff were owed US$6 million in salary areas as government is only paying half their wages, which according to the secretary, is delayed by two months.
“The ministry owed missions school fees refunds amounting to $376,900. Foreign service conditions of employment entail that government pays for tuition and boarding fees in full for diplomats’ children,” Bimha said.
“The operational expenses at our missions for 2014 amount to $32 644 000. The major cost drivers besides salaries at diplomatic mission are contractual obligations and unavoidable critical expenses such as rentals, utilities and maintenance of vehicles and buildings.”
Committee chairperson, Amos Midzi who is also a former diplomat, said the situation was a security risk as the staff could end up becoming sell outs due to non-payment of salaries.
“We could only hope that they will not be any sell outs but at the current situations, we have not received any negative report from our missions.
“In spite of the challenges faced by our people, they have remained loyal and committed to the interest of the country,” Bimha said.