ZIMBABWEAN diplomats long used to leading comfortable lifestyles in foreign lands are currently living like paupers according to Ministry of Foreign Affairs officials who spoke to the Zimbabwe Independent.
The current economic collapse in Zimbabwe that has seen foreign currency receipts disappear has meant that the government has not been able to pay its diplomats and locally recruited staff on time. Zimbabwe has 38 diplomatic missions plus three consulates across the world, with the biggest missions being New York and Geneva due to United Nations work.
Foreign currency applications lodged with the Reserve Bank of Zimbabwe have not been adequately met, negatively affecting morale and the operations of the embassies.
Ambassadors are paid between US$11 000 to US$13 000 a month depending on political seniority.
In February the New York mission received US$100 000 when its arrears and other monthly obligations totalled US$1 million.
Sources said Zimbabwe’s diplomats and Foreign Affairs staff posted at these missions had not been paid for the last five to seven months.
This meant that they have been unable to meet their obligations such as paying for rented accommodation, heating, medication and school fees.Â
Locally recruited staff is owed salary arrears of between three and five months including bonuses.
A diplomat who spoke on condition of anonymity said “because of the humanitarian situation at home we are no longer a priority”.
Failure to pay rentals and to meet other basic necessities is reported to have caused emotional stress for many diplomats.
A diplomat (name supplied) based in Vienna reportedly succumbed to depression in February after an eviction notice.
She was buried in Harare in February after friends and relatives chipped in to pay for transporting her body. Similar stories abound including diplomats who are surviving on foreign currency sent by the extended families back in Zimbabwe and some on handouts from friends.
Many are deep in debt after resorting to overdrafts for their everyday needs.
Another European-based Zimbabwean diplomat said some officers had resigned as a result of these terrible conditions because “people fear having bad names back home and some still hold out for cushy jobs in international organisations such at the UN.”
In Sweden officers evicted from their homes after failing to pay rent due to the non-payment of salaries are staying at the ambassador’s residence.
Sources said in Australia a senior officer was also staying at the embassy.
In India, Iran and Austria landlords for the chancelleries and residences have approached their ministries of foreign affairs to lodge complaints about the deviancy of Zimbabwean missions.
In certain countries where it is legal, spouses had resorted to seeking employment to support their families. Sources said some desperate diplomats had resorted to moonlighting to survive. Another diplomat who refused to be identified said “under these difficulties we still have to defend our country in international forums and in countries where we have been posted”.
All diplomats interviewed said they pinned their hopes for a change in their fortunes on the Global Political Agreement that produced the government of national unity which had its first cabinet meeting in Harare this week.
The forthcoming tobacco selling season was another reason for hope as improved sales would most likely result in certain disbursements made to cover outstanding diplomatic obligations.Â Â
There has been pressure in the Ministry of Foreign Affairs to reduce the number of embassies as a survival strategy but this had been turned down by President Robert Mugabe who sources said argued this would amount to a humiliation.
However, other diplomats said that closing down embassies at this juncture would be expensive given the huge outstanding arrears to staff, rentals and other services. – Staff Writer.