Concern over UN forum in Zimbabwe

Tue, Aug 7, 2012, 01:00

DOUBTS ABOUT Zimbabwe’s ability to host a United Nations tourism conference next August have surfaced after a senior state official reportedly said the country lied to win the joint bid.

Earlier this year Zimbabwe beat Russia, Turkey, Jordan and Qatar to co-host the general assembly of the UN World Tourism Organisation (UNWTO) in Victoria Falls with Zambia. The event is expected to attract almost 5,000 international guests from 155 countries.

However, South African and Zimbabwean newspapers have reported that Zimbabwean tourism and hospitality permanent secretary Sylvester Maunganidze told a parliamentary portfolio committee that their bid to secure the conference was exaggerated to impress the UNWTO board.

“We were competing with big nations so we went with pictorial evidence which was exaggerated and we won, but now it is a reality and we have to meet the standard presented,” he reportedly told committee members.

According to Mr Maunganidze, the UNWTO was given the impression that the country’s “peacock project” – which involves the construction of a state-of-the-art convention centre with hotels and golf courses and the expansion of Victoria Falls airport – would be completed in time for the conference.

“Most of the money promised is still on paper, making it difficult to develop Victoria Falls to the levels we were aiming at. Until such funds are made available, I will be selling an imaginary Victoria Falls,” South Africa’s Mail and Guardian reported Mr Maunganidze as saying.

Last week’s revelation has proven embarrassing for Zimbabwean president Robert Mugabe’s Zanu-PF party as it has tried to use securing the bid as positive publicity to repair its battered image ahead of a coming general election.

In May UNWTO secretary general Taleb Rifai met Mr Mugabe and Zambian president Michael Sata in Victoria Falls to sign an agreement that the organisation’s 20th general assembly would be hosted there in 2013.

“By coming here it is recognition, an endorsement on the country that it is a safe destination,” Mr Rifai said afterwards, which prompted Zimbabwe’s state media to say Mr Mugabe had been endorsed as an official UN tourism ambassador.

Zimbabwe’s former liberation movement has since moved into damage limitation mode, with Zimbabwean minister of tourism Walter Mzembi telling the state-run Daily Mail that the UNWTO recently assessed the preparedness of the host countries and was satisfied with the work done so far.

“So for now, we have been rated to be in an excellent state of preparedness,” he said.

Mr Mzembi has transferred Mr Maunganidze to the public service commission for allegedly giving parliament the wrong impression about Zimbabwe and Zambia’s winning bid.