By Zvamaida Murwira
At least four Zimbabwean embassies abroad have been taken to court in their accredited foreign countries for failing to pay rentals as Treasury battles a $7 million debt over accommodation for its diplomats in 45 missions, legislators heard yesterday.Foreign Affairs secretary, Ambassador Joey Bimha said Government has since slashed allowances for its diplomats while some ambassadors have since abandoned their official residences for rented accommodation because they were no longer habitable while others left as part of measures to contain arrears over rentals that continued to escalate.
Ambassador Bimha was giving oral evidence before a Parliamentary portfolio committee on Foreign Affairs chaired by Makonde MP Cde Kindness Paradza (Zanu-PF) on the ministry’s budget priorities.
“As we talk, we have four embassies that have been taken to court. We have had our diplomatic immunity revoked and taken to court,” said Ambassador Bimha.
Although he could not immediately give a figure, some of the embassies being sued were in Hong Kong, London and New York and another one that he could not readily remember. He said while the portfolio committee had recommended that embassies such as Ethiopia and Botswana among others that legislators had visited needed immediate intervention to salvage the country’s image, the situation was worse off compared to what MPs had observed during their fact finding mission.
On salaries of diplomats, Ambassador Bimha said the decision by Government to put them on the Salary Service Bureau payroll to ensure uninterrupted payment of salaries while commendable, had created another bigger challenge.
He said the old system would enable staff, upon receipt of monies for their salaries and other expenses, agreed to pay themselves a fraction of their remuneration and commit the remainder to other pressing operational obligations like rentals.
“We are now in worse problems than what we have solved. Rentals are no longer being paid. That decision (to put diplomats on SSB platform) was wrong,” said Ambassador Bimha.
Cde Paradza asked whether the decision to reduce salaries and allowances for diplomats was lawful. Warren Park MP Engineer Elias Mudzuri asked why the decision appeared arbitrary and whether there was concurrence with Treasury. Ambassador Bimha said the decision was made after they got a lot of pressure from the employer, the Ministry of Public Service Labour and Social Welfare, adding that they had reduced their allowances.
Chirumhanzu-Zibagwe MP Cde Auxillia Mnangagwa (Zanu-PF) asked whether it was not possible to reduce staff members.
He said they had already reduced staff in most embassies “to the bone” so that only basic human capital remained. He said as part of cost cutting measures, Government had requested their diplomats to send their children to domestic schools as opposed to international schools because they were cheaper, Treasury was still struggling to pay the school fees.