First Lady’s meddling with govt business unwarranted
FIRST Lady Auxilia Mnangagwa’s visit to Belarus on a follow up mission on deals signed between Harare and Minsk has raises serious concerns of state capture and cronynism, as she does not have electoral mandate to represent government on international business, at a time concerns are growing that the First Family is using state resources to advance personal deals.
Auxilia visited Minsk with her sons Sean and Collins. She met Belarus strongman Alexander Lukashenko.
The visit has placed her at the centre of state affairs, unconstitutionally, as she is now increasingly deployed to represent government at home and abroad when she us not an elected office bearer.
This is ironic considering that president Emmerson Mnangagwa ousted former president Robert Mugabe in the 2017 military coup arguing that he among other things was ceding power to his wife Grace. Writing from exile in South Africa before the coup, Mnangagwa, accused Grace of controlling party and government business.
“This party is now controlled by undisciplined, egotistical and self-serving minnows who derive power, not from the party, but from only two individuals in the form of the first family who have now privatised our beloved institution.
“I now urge all the genuine members of the party to determine for themselves who between the three of us, including your wife, is the real culprit is destroying our party,” he said, referring to the former First Lady.
This week, presidential spokesperson George Charamba jumped to the First Lady’s defense, justifying her unconstitutional involvement in government business, which they condemned Grace Mugabe for before late former president Mugabe’s fall.
“Mai Mnangagwa, the First Lady of Zimbabwe does not need your say-so to fundraise for humanitarian ends, to serve her country and the underprivileged in her country, to support her husband and to reinforce her country’s engagement thrust,” Charamba said.
Reports from Belarus however indicate that Auxilia was discussing government to government business.
According to Belarus media house Belta, “cooperation in various areas were discussed at the meeting with the head of state. These areas included medicine, agriculture, and the mining industry, each of which affects the quality of people’s lives.”
The East European country’s media outlet also revealed that Auxilia represented her husband, President Emmerson Mnangagwa in the meetings “in line with the agreements reached between the presidents of Belarus and Zimbabwe during Aleksandr Lukashenko’s state visit to Harare”, reported Belta saying it learnt this from the press service of the Belarusian Ministry of Foreign Affairs.
Lukashenko in a statement after meeting Auxilia and her sons Sean and Collins said:
“Dear Mrs Auxillia Mnangagwa, as we agreed with the president, you are in Belarus today on a very important visit. I am fulfilling the request of my friend President Emmerson so that the technologies that are in demand in Zimbabwe are in your country. We are ready to help you implement several projects at the request of your country and your president to build high-tech enterprises. First of all, this concerns humanitarian activities.”
Zimbabwe Coalition for Debt and Development (Zimcodd) programs manager John Maketo says the first lady’s visit raises concerns around the duplication of roles “or rendering other mandated institutions redundant or less effective, in this case Ministry of Foreign Affairs”.
Constitutionally, the Foreign Affairs minister is mandated to implement international agreements and government representation on the international forum.
Maketo said the visit is further cast into obscurity by lack of transparency on the funding model of the first lady’s programs, which he says is likely to weigh on the constitutional tenet of accountability.
“You may also want to recall that the 2023 budget provided appropriation for the first lady’s activities, which over time have stretched from rural tourism and cultural advocacy, to health ambassador, and lately diplomatic. Once the budget sails through Parliament it becomes lawful under the Finance Act,” Maketo said.
“What is not very clear is the specifics for which treasury funding for the “office of the first lady” was made. It is also important to note that all recipients of public funding including ministries, departments and agencies (MDAs), should be subject to public audit by the Auditor General to account for received funds.”
According to reports, Auxillia hired US$10 900-per-hour Gulfstream G550 for the 10 hour journey to Minsk which translates to US$109 000 on a one-way trip, raising concerns on transparency the funding model of her programs.
Another analyst, Rashweat Mukundu says there is need for transparency in not only the budget of her office, but also the kind of work that she is doing.
“If she is going to Belarus representing the Zimbabwean government using taxpayers’ money, then the government must clearly inform or communicate on what that business means, and if it falls within the activities of the first lady.
“In light of the many concerns on corruption in Zimbabwe, then it is far more important for the government to then communicate. For me, I think that is where the problem is, that there is no transparency on what they are really doing in Belarus, and lack of transparency on what budgetary support she gets from the government,” Mukundu said.
Auxillia has been increasing her foothold into state affairs.
In November last year, she was allocated funding by Treasury under tourism advocacy and awareness, the first time for a First Lady.
She has also been allocated space in state-owned newspaper The Herald, and has personal reporters who cover her events. Other journalists are usually barred to her events.
Auxillia has also been penetrating the health sector, through her Angel of Hope Foundation, which saw her being named Ambassador of Health in 2018. She has also been involved in diplomacy — roles that are set aside for diplomats, the minister of Foreign Affairs and the President, among other officials.
In November last year, she met Iranian Foreign minister Hossein Amir-Abdollahian, where they discussed on expanding and deepening relations between the two countries, work that is reserved for diplomats and the President.
Amir-Abdollahian said ties between the two countries continue to grow and expressed hope that, in the near future and with the holding of the 9th meeting of the Joint Commission on Cooperation between the two countries, relations in all fields will further develop.
Her name has also been mired in the gold-smuggling expose by Qatari-based news channel, Al Jazeera. In the four series episode, she is caught talking to presidential envoy, Uebert Angel plotting to smuggle US$1.2 billion in a plane, to clean the dirty money for payment.
Mnangagwa has been positioning her and his sons at the centre of the country’s state-driven money-spinning business arrangements with Belarus, reigniting fears of state capture.
In January this year, Belarus president Alexander Lukashenko was in Zimbabwe where he signed a series of bilateral and business deals with Mnangagwa in various areas of interest, including mining.
Mnangagwa’s family members have also been attending high level national meetings, raising fears of cronynism.
Cronynism is favouritism of friends without regard for their qualifications, especially by appointing them to political positions.
As previously reported by The NewsHawks, in February, presidential Spokesperson George Charamba justified the presence of President Emmerson Mnangagwa’s son, Emmerson Jr, at a high-level State House meeting of Zimbabwe’s top government officials and the visiting Belarusian delegation led by the eastern European country’s autocratic leader, Alexander Lukashenko.
When asked whether Emmerson Mnangagwa Jr was representing Mnangagwa’s personal interests at the meeting, Charamba said: “You have a problem together with your organisation (The NewsHawsks) in that you have a preferred reading which you want me to confirm, which I will not do. From today, you must know that you have no right to ask who constitutes the delegation of the President,” he said.
Emmerson Jr was caught on camera clad in formal designer suit dress code and Mnangagwa’s trademark scarf seated among ministers from both Zimbabwe and Belarus at a closed door meeting headlined by Lukashenko and the Zimbabwe’s leader at State House on Monday.
The meeting was the first that Lukashenko held at State House after touching down at the Robert Mugabe International Airport.