HARARE – Preaching austerity at home, the government of Zimbabwe sent a delegation of THIRTY people to a diamond conference in Belgium, it has been learnt.

Mines Minister Winston Chitando is leading the delegation to the Kimberley Process Plenary in Brussels which is running from November 12 to 16.

The Zimbabwe delegation includes Tafadzwa Musarara, president of Grain Millers Association of Zimbabwe and a crew from the Zimbabwe Broadcasting Corporation.

Mineral rights activist Farai Maguwu, who is attending the meetings as an observer on behalf of the Centre for Natural Resources Governance, an NGO, spoke of his shock at the size of the Zimbabwe delegation.

Maguwu said most members of the delegation were also spending their time shopping.

“Zimbabwe, which is earning less than $300 million annually from diamonds, sent a delegation of 30 plus,” he wrote on Facebook. “I had a chat with a UAE delegate who told me they are only three who flew in from the United Aram Emirates (UAE) and two from their embassy in Brussels. UAE earn more than $6.5 billion from the diamond trade annually. Israel also flew in three. Most governments are represented by their embassy staff in Brussels or around Europe.

“It seems rich countries are very conservative with spending and the poorest of the poor fly first class, send many delegates when two, backed by embassy staff, can do it and sleep in expensive hotels and you wonder why Africa is the global poster child for poverty and yet sitting on trillions worth of natural capital.”

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Maguwu said it was “sad for a country that is struggling to justify its boasting of being a major diamond producer vis-a-vis national development” that scarce foreign currency could be used to fly dozens of officials to Europe.

“The host country, Belgium, has sent it’s deputy minister to give a keynote address. I think we need to get priorities right and practice austerity,” Maguwu said.

The Kimberley Process is a regulatory scheme for diamond producing countries around the world meant to impair the sale and purchase of blood diamonds.

At home, Zimbabweans have been told by the government to tighten their belts as the government pursues shock new measures to re-balance the economy. But executive spending, including on luxury cars and foreign travel, remains a concern.