MPs plan expensive retreat

HARARE - Members of Parliament plan to hold a pre-budget convention for four days next month at the plush Elephant Hills Intercontinental Resort and Spa, a Zambezi riverfront hotel synonymous with treating guests to frolic, pamper and play.

The 2012 pre-budget seminar scheduled to run from November 1 to 4 at the imposing Elephant Hills, one of Zimbabwe's landmarks, could ultimately cost more than $150 000, at a time government is facing an acute cash crunch.

Speaker of House of Assembly, Lovemore Moyo said the seminar is a parliamentary annual activity meant to enhance the contribution of members of the legislature to the process of budget formulation and prioritisation ahead of the presentation of the 2013 national budget statement on November 15.

But there are concerns about the overall cost of this conference and many do not believe that discussions about the budget would be less successful if they held somewhere other than a spa and resort in Victoria Falls.

Moyo announced logistics for the conference on Tuesday, describing the conference that will include all the 208 House of Assembly legislators, as well as Parliament staff, as a must-attend.

Legislators will be booked each for $168 per night.

“I have to inform the House that all honourable members are invited to the 2012 pre-budget seminar scheduled to run from the 1st to the 4th of November 2012 at Elephant Hills; Victoria Falls,” Moyo said.

“Departure to Victoria Falls will be Thursday, November 1, 2012. In order to give members adequate preparation, members are requested to confirm their attendance with the Public Relations Department, PAX House, office NO. 2, 3rd floor, south wing, no later than October 15, 2012,” announced Moyo.

The announcement immediately stirred intense interest in the House of Assembly, with loud interjections.

“Order!” the Speaker shouted.

“All honourable members do not give excuses pertaining to this instruction and say I did not hear the instruction,” Moyo said. “All honourable members from Matabeleland North, Matabeleland South, Bulawayo, Masvingo and Midlands are urged to drive to Victoria Falls.”

 Parliament is chartering two flights for the rest of the legislators.

“Two charter flights will ferry the rest of the members to and from Victoria Falls," Moyo said.

Legislators will be checked into some of the 276 air-conditioned guest rooms at Elephant Hills that also feature minibars. The hotel also has recreational amenities including a golf course, outdoor tennis courts, a fitness facility, full-service health spa for body treatments, massage, facials and beauty services.

It was not immediately clear if any government funds would be used for any recreational or sporting activities.

Finance minister Tendai Biti was unreachable yesterday as he was said to be in Japan attending the IMF Spring meetings.

But an official in his office said Treasury was not funding the retreat amid reports donors and Parliament are jointly bankrolling the retreat.

Still, the programme reads more like a vacation than a business trip to discuss the means of improving fiscal prudence in the national spending plan.

The conference comes amid threats by civil servants to roll out a crippling strike over signals from government that there will be no 13th cheque this year, and the conference would be seen as wasteful spending and a frivolity. - Gift Phiri

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