Kate Hoey, the Labour MP who chairs the All-Party Parliamentary Group on Zimbabwe, told the Telegraph that the Foreign Office should disclose whether it paid for Lord Mandelson to travel to Harare – and what, if anything, arose from his meeting with the country’s finance minister.
The Telegraph revealed on Sunday that Lord Mandelson met Patrick Chinamasa, the Zimbabwean finance minister, in Harare in February.
Five months later, Mr Chinamasa came to London where he held talks with Lazard, an investment bank, on a possible $1.1 billion (£800 million) loan for Robert Mugabe’s regime.
Lord Mandelson, who served as a European Commissioner and First Secretary of State in Gordon Brown’s cabinet, is now chairman of Lazard International, a division of the investment bank.
A spokesman said that he was “not playing nor has he played any role in advising the Zimbabwean government either through Lazard or any other interest”.
Ms Hoey, who has a longstanding interest in Zimbabwe, said: “We will be asking Lord Mandelson to come and speak to us about his visit to Zimbabwe as soon as the House returns.”
She added: “I think it is important for the Foreign Office to be open and transparent about who paid for Lord Mandelson’s trip and what involvement they had in making it happen. They should also explain why the British Ambassador arranged for him to see the Zimbabwean finance minister and accompanied him to his meeting. In particular, there should be openness about why and in what capacity Lord Mandelson met the finance minister – and what, if anything, came out of that meeting.”
Catriona Laing, the British Ambassador to Zimbabwe, said on Sunday that it was “normal diplomatic practice to arrange meetings for senior visitors to press case for reform”. There was “nothing unusual” about Lord Mandelson’s presence in Zimbabwe, she added.
Ms Laing said the British Government wanted to encourage reform in the country. “Lord Mandelson visited to pursue [the]same aims,” she said. His visit had “nothing to do with finance or loans”.
Ms Laing added: “He met Minister Chinamasa and pressed case for reform.”
Zimbabwe’s economy is paralysed and Mr Mugabe’s regime is so short of money that it cannot pay civil servants nor even the army and the police. In the past, Mr Mugabe would order his Reserve Bank to print more banknotes whenever the government ran out of money.
But the resulting hyperinflation forced Zimbabwe to abandon its national currency and adopt the US dollar in 2009. Unable to print money, Mr Mugabe is now seeking an international rescue package. In particular, he needs $1.1 billion (£800 million) to clear Zimbabwe’s arrears with the World Bank, a move that would open the way for a bailout from the International Monetary Fund (IMF) when its board meets in September.
But Zimbabwe has a long record of breaking its promises to the IMF. Earlier bailouts in 1991 and 1999 did not lead to genuine reform. Many question whether real change is possible while Mr Mugabe, 92, remains in power. Any suggestion of rescuing his regime is intensely controversial within Zimbabwe, where strikes and protests have become common.
Ms Hoey urged the British Government to be wary of supporting any rescue package. “If the IMF considers a bailout for Zimbabwe, the UK’s representatives should remember that the Mugabe regime has shown over and over again that it cannot be trusted to keep any of its promises,” she said.-UK Telegraph