Jon Swain - writer and foreign correspondent

Zimbabwean President Robert Mugabe pays security goons $5,000 a day

Jon Swain

The Sunday Times, 7 February 2010

WHEN President Robert Mugabe arrived in Geneva to attend an international telecommunications summit last October, he was greeted at the airport by a crack team of security officials from Zimbabwe’s secret service, the Central Intelligence Organisation (CIO).
Sent to Switzerland several days in advance to prepare for his visit and ensure it was safe for him to come, they whisked the president to his hotel in a limousine.
There was nothing unusual in that. Mugabe, who turns 86 this month, has always been paranoid about his security, especially on foreign trips, where he has twice been the target of an attempted citizen’s arrest. He also has critics and enemies among Zimbabwean exiles forced by repression and economic collapse to leave and find work overseas.
What was unusual was that the CIO team of six men and one woman were paid special allowances of $5,000 (£3,200) a day to keep Mugabe safe.

Over 10 days in Switzerland, each accumulated a total of $50,000 in cash. The money was theirs to keep, a perk of the job, and they did not have to account for it on their return to Harare.
Happyton Bonyongwe, director-general of the CIO, submitted the request to the Treasury on October 1, stipulating that the “allowances equivalent of 10 days must be paid in cash” to the “seven crack officers of the advance team to Switzerland”. One of them was named Alice Mugabe. It is not clear whether she is a relation.
In any country, $5,000 a day would be considered good money. In Zimbabwe, where most of the population lives on less than $1 a day and a teacher or nurse earns $5 a day, such sums are beyond people’s wildest dreams.
A few weeks later, on November 16, Mugabe and his 60-strong delegation, including three personal caterers, arrived in Rome on a private flight to take part in a summit on world food security. They stayed for a week.
As usual, Mugabe was accompanied by his wife, Grace, who has become infamous for her shopping expeditions.
Again special allowances of $5,000 a day were paid to the CIO officials looking after his security. Less important members of the huge entourage were paid $2,000 (£1,300) a day. Authoritative sources have told The Sunday Times the entire visit cost the cash-strapped unity government £1.4m.
Although Tendai Biti, the finance minister, called for restraint after revealing that the government had spent £18m on foreign travel in 10 months, Mugabe commandeered Air Zimbabwe’s only serviceable Boeing 767 to fly him to the United Nations climate change conference in Copenhagen with a 59-strong delegation. More millions were spent as the president used the occasion to harangue the West.
Donor governments giving millions in aid to Zimbabwe had been led to believe such practices had ended with the formation of a unity government. Power is shared between Mugabe’s Zanu-PF party and the Movement for Democratic Change of Morgan Tsvangirai, the prime minister.
“We were under the impression the figures were closer to $500 or certainly under $1,000,” said a western diplomat. “These $5,000 special allowances show it is business as usual.Mugabe still does pretty much what he likes and gets away with it.”
The unity government is one of the most bloated in Africa. Seventy-four officials are rewarded with top-of-the-range official cars and other perks.
Last week it was announced that strict restrictions would be imposed on officials travelling outside the country. But the cost of presidential travel was not mentioned.
With Gideon Gono, a Mugabe stalwart, still at the helm of the central bank, Biti is finding reform an uphill battle. Sources said large sums of money were still being extracted from the budget and placed at Mugabe’s disposal.
Under Gono, the bank is a law unto itself and an example of unbridled extravagance. His senior executives spent $215,000 in six months on food.
Recently, while Biti was abroad, Gono plundered millions from the statutory reserves to pay bills, including some questionable sums that found their way into a fund connected with the presidency.
“There are all sorts of scams to circumvent Biti. A lot is authorised by people beneath him in the finance ministry who have a high level of authority,” said one source. “It goes on beneath his radar.”