Tuesday, February 24, 2009

His Excellency, Mr Moonlighter

Mail & Guardian
Zimbabwean diplomats are resorting to moonlighting to avoid debt collectors as the lack of foreign currency caused by the country's economic crisis has left its representatives abroad unable to pay their bills. This month a diplomat based in Austria committed suicide, reportedly in a state of depression after receiving an eviction notice. She was buried in Harare after friends and relatives chipped in to pay for transporting her body home.Stories abound of diplomats who are surviving on foreign currency sent by the extended families back in Zimbabwe and on hand-outs from friends. Many are deep in debt after resorting to overdrafts for their everyday needs.
Zimbabwe has 38 diplomatic missions and three consulates across the world. The biggest missions are in New York and Geneva, because of the United Nations. Ambassadors are paid between US$11 000 and US$13 000 a month, depending on political seniority.Foreign currency applications lodged with the Reserve Bank of Zimbabwe by embassies abroad have not been adequately met. In February the New York mission received US$100 000 when its arrears and other monthly obligations totalled US$1-million.Sources say that Zimbabwe's diplomats and foreign affairs staff posted overseas have not been paid for the last five to seven months. This means that they have been unable to meet most of their obligations, such as paying for rented accommodation, heating, medication and school fees. Locally recruited staff are owed salary arrears of between three and five months, including bonuses.In certain countries where it is legal, spouses 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."
In Sweden officers evicted from their homes after failing to pay rent because their salaries weren't paid 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 failure to pay by Zimbabwean missions. A diplomat who spoke on condition of anonymity said: "Because of the humanitarian situation at home we are no longer a priority."

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